Ten top tips for hosting foreign students

Hosting foreign students in our home has kept us going during some lean times. It hasn’t just been helpful to our finances though. Hosting foreign students has proved fascinating and hugely rewarding in other ways.

We have been hosting foreign students on and  off for almost eight years. During that time we have met great people from all over the world. Japan, Slovakia, Angola, Sweden, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Macedonia, to name just a few. It is so interesting to have a glimpse into the lives of these young people.

They tend to be confident and sensible young people on the whole. However, you can’t take this for granted. Many are very young and inexperienced. They need a bit of guidance. If you are thinking about hosting foreign students, here are my top tips to make their visit a pleasant experience all round.

Some stay for a week or two, but you can take students for up to a year. Most of ours have been with us for short trips. The longest was here for six months.

hosting foreign students

Top tips when hosting foreign students

1. Set clear house rules

It is sensible to set clear house rules from the beginning. If your student’s grasp of the language is limited, give them a written list. They can translate it at their leisure!

Let them know whether smoking is acceptable and where they can do it. We are a non-smoking household. However, I keep a pot of sand outside the back door and allow them to smoke in the garden.

Make sure time meals are clear and ask them to ring or text to let you know if they are running late. I have found this is particularly important to set a breakfast time. Teenagers often don’t want to get up, particularly at the weekends! I learned this the hard way. We had one girl who was with us for several months. On weekends she would stay in bed all day if we let her. She once got up at 4 pm and wanted breakfast, when I was slaving over a Sunday roast!

2. Be firm on the rules around going out

The organisations responsible for hosting foreign students always have rules on how late students can stay out if they are under 18. If they are under 16 they need to have their parents’ written consent to go out unaccompanied in the evenings. If they are between 16 and 18 they usually have to be in by 10.30 in the week and 11.30 at the weekend.

Crack down immediately if your student stays out later than this. I had one 16 year old who rolled home at 3 am and a 17 year old who came in at midnight. This was on a Monday night and she proceeded to vomit in the bathroom for the next hour. We weren’t impressed and made it clear this was not acceptable. You also need to advise your host organisation if faced with this type of behaviour.

If over 18, you can still insist they are back by a certain time. Your house, your rules, and if you are lying awake worrying about them it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. I usually say something like ‘We lock up at 11.30, so you need to be in by then’, certainly during the week.

3. Food

I have learned the hard way that it is best to be conservative in the food you offer. I plan the first few meals around pasta or a fairly plain meat dish such as chicken to see how adventurous they are. We assumed that our French students would all eat anything as they come from a country renowned for its gastronomy. However, we found this is not the case. A teenager is a teenager it seems, wherever they come from.

Saying that, you don’t want to feed them junk all week and you are expected to provide nourishing food. Once you have had a chance to speak to them about their likes and dislikes you can plan your other meals. You also need to provide a pudding. I generally go for fruit, yogurt or ice cream, with cake or crumble at the weekend when I have time to bake.

We have had several older students (some have been in their late twenties and early thirties) insist on making us a meal. We had a lovely Japanese curry created by Tae and a memorable ratatouille made by Stephan!

Part of their learning journey is to spend time conversing with the family. Meal times are the perfect opportunity for this, so make sure you all eat together.

I have made mistakes, and once inadvertently put wine in a casserole for a Muslim student! Having carefully avoided pork I completely forgot most Muslims do not drink!

Make sure you understand which meals you are expected to provide. One group I work with requires all meals, including a packed lunch each day, whilst another expects the student so purchase their own lunch at the school.

Packed lunches

If you are expected to proved a packed lunch for your student, make sure it is a decent one. Generally, we offer two filled rolls (one cheese and one ham), a piece of cake or cereal bar, some fruit, crisps and a bottle of water. I might substitute a sausage roll or pizza for the sandwiches, but check that they like these first. Even if I am not obliged to, I always see them off at the end of their stay with plenty of food and drink for their journey.

4. Provide local information

Depending on how old your student is and how much free time they have, it is sometimes worth picking up some tourist leaflets for them. Generally, though, what they need is a map of your town with important places marked on it. Include your house, the study centre and any other places they need to know about.

If they are expected to travel by bus, we research the numbers for them and help them buy their ticket on the bus on the first day. We ask the bus driver to tell them when they need to get off. You might like to do the journey with them on day one, again depending on their age. I also print out pictures of the study centre and any landmarks on the bus route so they know to ring the bell when they see them and get off.

One of the study centres we use when hosting foreign students is just a 15 minute walk from our house. If students are happy to walk we take them the evening before so that they are confident about where they need to go.

I write down our address to keep with them in case they have difficulties or get lost and make sure we exchange mobile numbers. They also get a front door key to let themselves in and out.

5. Be kind

Often, students are quite nervous when they arrive so try to help and reassure them as much as possible. Unbelievably, there was an occasion I heard about when a host’s boyfriend was so unfriendly towards a 17 year old student that she contacted the group leader and requested to be moved. We would have taken her in but didn’t have space.

Respect cultural differences. You will be advised in advance about obvious things, like religion (Muslim and Jewish students obviously don’t eat pork), but sometimes you discover as you go along. We found that our Angolan student was a deeply religious Catholic. As she was staying several months we made a point of taking her to church a couple of times so that she could get to know people. A kind lady then offered to collect her every Sunday morning and they became great friends.

Include your guests in your life and daily activities. At weekends, we sometimes drive them to the seaside, take them for meals with friends and family or go into town shopping. This is best if your student is under 18 as you cannot leave them alone in the house for extended periods.

6. Keep them safe

Remember that if they are under 18 you are ‘in loco parentis’ and responsible for their safety and well-being. Ensure you have the emergency number for the organisers with you at all times and liaise with the organisers if you have any difficulties. Some organisations insist on a DBS check, but a surprising number don’t.

You decide how much you are going to drive them around. I tend not to take or collect them from classes. It is part of their experience to get themselves about. However, one group often goes to bowling one evening and I usually offer to collect younger students so that they don’t have to find their way home at 9pm, certainly the first week.

7. Keep their comfort in mind

Remember, even though you are treating them as members of your family during their stay, your students are paying guests. They expect a clean and tidy home, a comfortable room and a proper bed with fresh bed linen. As they will be doing homework whilst they are staying, they will also need a desk, a chair and a lamp in their room.

Keep the house warm and provide extra blankets if the weather is chilly, especially for students from warmer climes. our Angolan student was frozen for the first month, even though it was July when she arrived! I had to encourage her to buy some extra jumpers and a warm coat.

Although group organisers often encourage students to join in with clearing up or laying the table as part of being ‘one of the family’, they don’t have to. They shouldn’t be expected to do any housework or child-minding.

You will be obliged to do their laundry at least once a week, to clean their room and give them clean bedding and towels.

8. Remember why they are here

Remember that first and foremost they are here to learn the language. You may think this is a great opportunity to practice your German or French, but resist the urge. They are here to immerse themselves in the English language, not help you with your learning. Speak slowly and clearly. We have resorted to Google translate from time to time but generally try to explain without.

9. Prepare in advance

Liaise with the organisers and read everything they send to you so that you are prepared for your guest. Make sure you are aware in advance of any dietary requirements and that you are happy to provide the food required. I always say that I am happy to do vegetarian or gluten free meals, but have never had to.

Don’t plan any events during your guest’s stay that they cannot attend with you if necessary. Be prepared to join in too. One of our organisations has a family barbecue, which is always fun. Another invites host families for a picnic in the park. Don’t just see hosting foreign students as a way to make extra money. It can be a fun and rewarding experience in its own right.

10. How to get started hosting foreign students

We are lucky to have an English Study Centre here. Obviously not every town will have one. Do some research on the internet to see which organisations teach English as a Foreign Language as they may require host families.

My current student came to me from LEC. They employ local organisers around the UK who recruit families. Other organisations are:

Homestay. You can sign up on the website.

EF Host Families

Host UK place international university students with host families.

Kaplan International, a huge organisation offering English courses worldwide.

There are many other organisations if you do your research. What is your experience of hosting foreign students?

For more ideas on how to earn extra money you might like my post 13 ideas for side hustles that aren’t run of the mill.

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8 thoughts on “Ten top tips for hosting foreign students

  1. This is a totally brilliant list, Jane! We don’t host students now, but we did in the 1970s when it certainly helped stretch the finances. Those students will now, more than likely, have children or even grandchildren of their own!
    Like you, we did our best to ‘look after’ these young people, often away from home for the first time, and made sure they had good, nourishing food. Sometimes the food seemed strange to them – they didn’t like the look of trifle, but then it doesn’t look very good, does it? It’s not until you eat it that you know it’s delicious, and most of them were game to try, but yes, roasts and pasta (not together, I mean) went down well. And as well as giving them good food, we would take them out – if they wished to go – with us at the weekend.
    Yes, we had some ‘rogue’ students now and again, those who wanted to stop out all night on the beach (taking my husbands lovely classical guitar with him and getting it filled with sand), and one who stole money, but generally we handled any problems as they arose and without fussing or having to contact the organization. As you say, it can be a fun and rewarding experience.
    Margaret P

  2. If I was the parent of a student, Jane, I would hope that they got lodgings with someone like you who would take good care of my child. I have never had lodgers and wouldn’t consider doing so but it’s interesting to have read what is expected.

  3. A very good list. I host young high school students sometimes for a few weeks at a time. Usually from China. Just want to agree that kids are the same about food all over the world. Had one 16 year old who would not touch a bit of fruit or vegetable. Others loved having papaya for breakfast every day. Spaghetti seems to cross all cultural food borders.

    The other essential….taken for granted these days…..is that there is WiFi and lots of power outlets for charging devices.

  4. Hi, I always found it helpful when given their details to either write or e-mail them before they came. I would tell them a bit about the house, the area we live in, the dog, who was in the family etc. and ask them questions like what food they liked. This way, when they wrote back, I had a good idea what their level of English was and had usually worked out what kind of food they liked. Everyone who was contacted said that receiving either a letter or e-mail reassured both them and their parents.

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