Homestay can be one of the most interesting and culturally enriching experiences you’ll ever have. It’s a good value for money option too as it’s often cheaper than student halls, hotels and private rented apartments. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to get to know British culture from the inside: sharing a meal with your host and talking about life and the day’s events is a great way to practice and improve your English language skills.
We do understand, though, that moving to another country that has different ways of doing things than you’re used to and speaking a different language than your own presents its own unique challenges. Some things may seem a little strange to you at first, so you’ll have to be open-minded about it, compromise a little and learn to adapt in order to fit in with the hosts you are staying with.
Here are some top tips to ensure your stay in a homestay is a great success:
I guess it does seem a bit unusual to email someone you’ve never met before and to let them know when you are going to arrive at their home but it’s a great way to break the ice and start to get to know each other.
Also, letting them know the time your flight/train arrives in Birmingham, will give them a good idea of when to expect you and allow your host to make sure they, a family member or good friend will be at home to meet you.
Sometimes it can be quite awkward for the host to start the conversation on rules because they will want you to feel they are welcoming when you arrive. They won’t want you to think they are unfriendly. However, it’s good to know how the household works from the start to avoid any misunderstandings later down the line. For example, if you know that a member of the household wakes very early each day to use the shower, you will know not to use it at that time.
You can help the host by asking them about house rules and routines first. Your host will really appreciate it.
Select some of your favourite photos of family and friends from your camera library (I know you’ve got loads of them) and show your hosts. It’s a great way to get the conversation going. People choose to host international students and interns because they are interested in other cultures, enjoy meeting new people and sharing stories.
Everyone loves food, don’t they? It’s a great talking point. You can show your host how to cook your favourite dishes from back home. You might want to check with your host first though if your favourite dish is very, very spicy! Most hosts are adventurous people and enjoy trying new types of cuisine but some are stuck in their ways and not so keen to try new things, so don’t be offended if your host does not want you to cook for them. Mind you, I reckon most would welcome it: a night off from cooking and eating something fresh and authentic. Who wouldn’t be delighted by that?
We love a good greeting us Brits so a quick ‘good morning’ and a smile will go a long way. In fact, it’s a good idea to get used to saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ every time you come and go. This might seem a little unnecessary and different from your own culture, but it will certainly be the norm for your host.
It’s polite behaviour and generally expected to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a lot too, especially if someone opens a door, offers to do or does something for you so please, remember to say thank you.
You won’t find many hosts living in the city centre of Birmingham. It’s just the way it is. Most of the accommodation in the city centre comprises privately owned and rented apartments so be prepared to live in the suburbs.
Bus travel is the most popular choice for students. With hundreds of brand-new eco-efficient buses hitting the streets of Brum, bus travel in Birmingham is the best way to go. Your host will be happy to show you where the bus stop is near to their home.
Be sure to ask your agent, Warm Welcome Homestays or your school’s student services team to help you get a bus pass as soon as you arrive. Without a bus pass each journey will cost you £2.40 so make sure you have the correct amount of money – the bus driver won’t be able to give you any change from a £5 note.
Bear in mind that the standard journey time by bus to your school is 30 to 45 minutes so use this time to your advantage: review your homework or preview the vocabulary that is coming up in your next lesson - use this time wisely and you’ll be sure to improve your English language skills.
Founder and Managing Director of Warm Welcome Homestays - Birmingham born and bred, English Language Teacher and long track-record of working with students, homestay hosts and language schools in the UK and overseas, including living and working in Asia for a number of years.