10 Things You Should Know Before Getting a Homestay
Hosting a Homestay Can Be Enjoyable & Profitable
The idea of a stranger living in your house, alongside your family can seem strange at first. But once you get used to the idea, it can be a great way to experience new cultures (without the plane ticket), and also provide some supplemental income. Often, homestays are foreign students looking to study in your country and require hosting in a stable, friendly environment where they feel safe and can study in peace. Often the homestay hosts are mature married couples with young or grown children and have an extra bedroom to spare. Students come for a varied amount of time, from a few months to a few years, depending on several factors including their age and whether they are in high school or university.
As a prospective homestay host, there are several things you should consider before committing to have a stranger living in your home. The homestay may be a young naïve student but the host can be naïve as well and can find the inherent costs in hosting don't always allow for the amount of extra income that they had planned on.
The list below provides some key factors to consider to make the homestay experience enjoyable for both you and your homestay. Also, read 'How to get a homestay student'
for more helpful advice.
1. Tenant or Guest?
Formal transaction or friendly exchange
This is the first question you should ask yourself. Are you doing this for money, the experience, or both? It makes a difference which answer you choose because it will determine your expectations during their tenure. If you are solely looking to make some extra money then you will likely approach the costs, conveniences and comforts as favourable towards yourself as possible. If you are looking to host as more of an act of kindness and generosity then you may put the homestay's needs before some of your own. Chances are your reasons are somewhere in between. You want to exercise your goodwill towards mankind and make a little money whilst doing so. Whichever reasons you choose, the way you approach the arrangement affects the rest of the reasons I state here.
2. Rules Need to Be Established Beforehand
This will avoid many problems
Ahh rules. Without rules there is chaos. Well, not exactly in the case of homestays but they can REALLY help keep things respectful, smooth running and serve to protect both you and your homestay. Rules are put in place to protect both parties. When interviewing the homestay, either in person, or with their legal guardian or parent present, rules needs to be clearly communicated and agreed upon by both parties. If there is a language barrier then you need to have someone communicate the rules to them for you.
Defining the consequences is as equally important as defining the rules. Is there a three strikes your out policy for certain behaviours such as smoking in the house? Zero tolerance for some behaviours such as coming home on drugs? If these are explained to both the homestay and also their legal guardian or parent then, in the event they are violated, you are afforded more leverage to remove them from your residence.
Inversely, if the homestay is aware of the rules then they know the boundaries and are more prone to be respectful of them. See my post on "10 Rules for Homestays" for more on this.
Guides to creating rules
3. Rules Will Be Broken
Whether you like it or not
No homestay experience is perfect. Any rules you may have set up are bound to be tested at some point. Particularly if you host a teenager. What do you do if the rules are broken? This goes back to my previous point of the importance of establishing rules from the beginning. If you have defined the rules then you should have also defined the consequences.
Your degree of discipline may be slight or strict but I have found that a three strikes policy is good for certain broken rules such as untruthfulness. Whereas a zero tolerance policy of eviction is applicable for things such as drinking or drugs in the house.
Whatever degree of strictness you choose, ensure you follow through or else more trouble will surely follow.
4. Food is Expensive!
High food costs can negate a lot of the profit
Depending on the situation, you will usually be required to provide at least two meals a day and often three. Breakfast can consist of a bowl of cereal or a hot breakfast of eggs and fresh fruit. Lunch can consist of a bowl of instant Ramen noodles, a granola bar and some veggies, or something hardier such as deli meat sandwiches, yoghurt, fruit and so on.
Obviously there is a big difference in cost between these meals. Meal requirements need to be determined and factored into a homestay fee before it is agreed upon by both parties.
Dietary concerns such as allergies may need to be met or a requirement of organic produce may be stipulated at the beginning of the interview process. These things need to be addressed because food costs can be cheap (2 meals a day of consisting partly of noodles and non-organic fruit) or expensive, (3 meals a day consisting of finer meats and organic produce). Food costs can come back to bite you if you initially account for 25% of the fee going towards it and end up paying 35% towards it.
Also, another factor to consider is the inherent time and sometimes difficulty in satisfying certain meal requirements. Say, they stipulate that they require a certain brand of cracker in their lunch, for example, and this brand is only available at a store that is a half hour drive away. Well, this needs to be taken into account during shopping trips and requires a certain investment in time and possibly premium pricing costs for this brand. Gas costs getting to and from the extra market visit will also take a bite out of the profit as well.
Two other important factors in food costs are age and gender. Who is going to eat more, a male teenager, or a female twenty-something? If any of you out there have a teenager in the house I think you already know the answer.
5. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Same food for all or custom meals?
I have already addressed the cost of food and touched on the factors that affect it but there is more to consider on this point. Specifically, dietary and taste requirements. Depending on which country your homestay comes from, likes, dislikes and dietary requirements can vary. You may be happy with pizza and burgers every night but your homestay is used to a more diverse menu. Inform the homestay during the interview process what kind of meals you typically serve and ask them what they like to eat. It's better to be matched with someone who shares your family's tastes than having to make a separate meal for them every night.
Make it fun! Talk to your homestay about the food they love. What is their favourite food? Can they teach you how to cook it? It can be great to try new foods and it gives you the opportunity to learn more about their culture and develop a friendship in the process.
Some other factors that affect meals:
- Picky or not picky eater: You may find yourself modifying your household meals all the time because of a picky eater.
- Vegetarian or meat eater: I meat-based diet generally costs more than a vegetarian diet.
- Recent immigrant or veteran homestay: One may be more used to your culture's menu and therefore more accepting of your food.
How to cater your meals to your homestay
6. Your Heating Bill Will Go Up
This is one that caught us by surprise with our first homestay. Our spare room is in our basement and, naturally, basements are cooler than the rest of the house. We have baseboard heating in the spare room and it can be controlled in-room. Of course we don't want to keep the homestay in the cold and expect a certain amount of usage. But whenever we would knock on our homestay's door for one reason or another, we were greeted with a wall of heat billowing out of the room as soon as the door opened. Our homestay had the heat cranked to maximum night and day, whether they were home or not. We addressed it but it continued to the point where we had to add a surcharge to their fee since our bill jumped from around $200 every two months to $350 every two months. Something to look out for and define in the rules as mentioned here.
How to save heating costs
7. Cultural Sensitivity
Show your guest respect
Every culture has its own unique set of traditions and rules of etiquette. Learning about these things is rewarding part of the homestay experience. While you may host someone whose cultural intricacies you are unfamiliar with, it's incumbent upon you to make an effort to learn more about these differences and respect them. Just because you and you family may think it's OK to belch at the table doesn't mean your homestay does (trust me).
I guess the rule of thumb is, if you think it may offend them, then don't do it. There may be cultural clashes and disagreements of opinion, but it's important that you make an effort to understand and respect these differences. If there is conflict it is better to address and assuage than let simmer and ultimately result in damage to the host/homestay relationship.
Introduce yourself to their culture
8. The Right to Privacy
It's your home but their room
Respect is an important part of the host/homestay relationship. They are a guest in your house and you request that they abide by your rules so you should also pay them the same respect in terms of their right to privacy. If you were a landlord and rented an apartment you would respect the renters space and homestays are hardly any different.
What do I mean about respecting the homestays' space? Well, although it is not required (unless stipulated during the interview process), it is a nice gesture to provide a lock and key for their room. This is especially important if there is more than one homestay in your house. You know you will be honest but you can't control somebody elses level of respect. A lock and key helps safeguard privacy and property amongst homestays in your house. You should, of course, keep a copy of the key for emergency purposes, but this gesture goes a long way.
If you do need to enter the room for any reason, practice common courtesy. Always knock and wait for an OK before entering. And if you did need to go into their room for some reason while they were not at home, inform them as another gesture of respect.
Furnishing the room affordably
9. Do You Have Children in the House?
How will your children affect the homestay and vice versa
Children are common in homestay houses. Due to the cost of raising children a homestay is a great mortage/diaper helper. Ask yourself this: how will having another person, young or older, male or female living in your house affect your children? There are positives and negatives to this question.
A homestay can be a great way to introduce new cultures, foods and languages into the household. Just exposing your child to this can be beneficial to their growth, development and sense of worldliness. Not to mention that they may also get a new friend to play with.
There are other factors to consider as well. Since you are investing a certain amount of time cooking, cleaning and conversing with the homestay, your time with your children may be spread a little thinner. You can counter this by including your children in your interactions with your homestay. Also, if your homestay is an adolescent they may lack the judgement to safely supervise your child. This brings up the important fact that THEY ARE NOT YOUR BABYSITTER. You didn't decide to host them so that you could get free babysitting so don't expect this of them. If your children want to play independently with the homestay at times then make sure that the homestay is OK with this and that it isn't interfering with their study or personal time.
10. You Are Partially Responsible For Them
Legally and Morally
Adolescent homestays require a legal guardian to be allowed to be hosted in the country. The legal guardian takes care of things like the transfer of money between the parent in the home country, the legal issues, and their schooling. What they don't cover is liability issues within your home and moral responsibilities towards their health and well-being.
First, let's address the legal liability issue. I think it goes without saying that your homestay requires a safe place to stay. This means a room that is secure, via a lock on the door and a lock on the window if there is one. If the room is on the ground floor, window bars may be requested to counter the fear of a break in. In case of fire, the homestay will need to be familiarized with safe exits and where fire extinguishers are located within the home.
Safety extends to health concerns as well. From awareness to food allergies to ensuring a toy left on the stairs doesn't cause a harmful fall.
Moral responsibilities are more of a gray area so I will provide a couple of examples to help illustrate. If you host a young girl and she plans on coming home late, wouldn't it be good caretaking to offer to pick her up so she isn't out late alone? More seriously, if the homestay comes home drunk, they may have violated one of your rules and you will likely be upset. That said, if they are intoxicated to the point where you are concerned for their safety then I would suggest you ensure that they are taken care of even if you may not want to get involved. Often the homestays are young, naïve and unfamiliar with the potential hazards of your community. I believe it's part of the homestay hosting experience to help provide guidance to ensure their safety not only as your guest but as also as a fellow human being.