Choosing a Homestay
Choosing a Homestay while living in the U.S. can be a wonderful and enriching life experience as well as a cost-effective housing solution for international students. For "first-timers" who may be anxious about leaving their home country, the transition into a homestay with warm and welcoming English speaking Hosts can make for a less stressful transition and also be helpful with the student's assimmilation into American culture. Another benefit is the ability for students to practice their daily English conversational skills in a relaxed home enviornment.
Parents of international students may feel more comfortable sending their children off to study in the U.S. when they know that their child will be placed with a local area host family who has been "pre-screened" and "trained" to host an international student. When compared to apartment living, homestay is usually less expensive monthly and students do not have to buy furniture or towels and linens after they arrive. Most agencies will offer private or shared furnished rooms and a meal or no meal program. Utilities and Internet service is often included.
Many schools in the U.S. keep a list of Homestay Agencies that they recommend to potential students. If they do not, a student will need to search for one on their own. A simple Internet search will most likely yield a list of several agencies who offer placement. The job of the student and parents is to look for the agency that will work best for the student.
There are a few key essentials students should consider when choosing a Homestay Agency whether recommended by the school or sought out by student.
A well-established agency will offer a "student-centered" aproach to their students. Their staff will be responsive and timely with their communication from the beginning of a potential applicant's inquiry to the day of their departure. There will also be a clear and consise homestay contract with flexible housing options as well as support throughout a student's stay.
From the get go, a student should feel that their questions, whether big or small, are being answered in a timely fashion. Typically, inquiries should be answered within 24 hours, keeping in mind an email sent on a holiday or weekend would be answered the next business day. Some typical questions a student might find helpful to ask prior to applying or when evaluating the services of a homestay agency might be: Will you be moved free of charge if you are not happy with your placement? How far will you be placed from school? Can I switch to a no-meal plan or meal plan housing option during my placement if I want? What is included in the monthly housing fee? Will I have access to the family's computer or have TV in my room? What rules should I expect when I arrive in a host's home? Many of these frequently asked questions will be answered in the Homestay agency's contract, but if they are not they should be asked prior to applying. An agency that offers definitive and thoughtful answers will most likely prove to be a well-organized agency that will offer you a successful placement.
Before committing to a program, make sure you thouroughly read and understand your homestay contract. Make note of the options you have after you check-in or if you decide to check out earlier than you originally listed on your housing application. Most Homestay agencies will have a minimum amount of time a student must apply for, and if a student breaks their contract they could face a monetary loss. Always make a copy of the agency's contract to refer back to if needed.
Support throughtout a student's stay:
There should be 24/7 support from the homestay agency throughout a student's stay. A student should have a direct contact person who they can voice any questions or concerns to. Typically this would be a local housing coordinator who assiged the student's placement. However, it could be staff at the agency's office. After arrival, students should be reached out to by phone or email. The coordinator will want to know how you are getting along in your new home and if you are happy. They will most likely ask the host similiar questions. This information will help them to evaluate how the placement is going. It is very important for a student to know that should they have any concerns, they have a confidential platform in which to voice them. If there is a problem, the housing coordinator should act responsively and diplomatically to solve the issue. At the end of the student's stay, a confidential online survey or written evaluation should be completed about the host. If your agency does not supply one, you should feel free to email them and let them know how your experience was. It is essential for an agency to receive comments and feedback about their hosts first-hand. If a student's placement was successful, their evaluation will also be a nice "thank you" to the host family, as an agency will most likely want to replace the host with another student.
Choosing to live in a homestay while studying in the U.S. will be, for all students, a period of adjustment. Our advice to new students thinking about this housing option is, although it may take awhile to become fully comfortable living in someone else's home and time to feel familiar with their new surroundings, it's important to keep an open mind and give themselves a good period of time to adjust. By doing this, a student will probably have a more culturally enriching experience and find that they have become a life-long part of another family's who cares for them like one of their own.