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How to be a Homestay Family in Vancouver

By Edited Feb 13, 2016 1 0

Hosting a foreign student in your home can be a great learning experience for the whole family. While most home stay families start out thinking they will enrich a student's life, it is their life that is often enriched. Exposure to another culture will widen your horizons and introduce you to new foods, words and customs.  Lifelong friendships can be formed between homestay students and families. Lastly, there is also some financial reward for sharing that spare room with a student.

  • Unless specified in advance, airport pick-up is not the responsibility of the host family and most ESL schools arrange airport pickups separately.  Rather, your responsibility is to make sure someone at home to greet the student upon his or her arrival.  If the school or airport pickup does not confirm the schedule the day before or so, reach out and confirm everything yourself to avoid any surprises.  You want the arrival process to go smoothly.
  • As host, allow the student to call home as soon as they arrive.  This will put them at ease and will let their family back home know they have arrived safely.  Soon after arrival help them buy a calling card (available from 7-11 and most grocery stores) unless they prefer Skype or similar services.
  • A little welcome gift is really appreciated. It does not have to be fancy or expensive a basket of fruit or some flowers for a female make for a nice touch. 
  • Consider placing pictures of the family members (and maybe people who visit regularly like grandparents) with each person's name marked so that the guest will recognize everyone more easily and associate the correct names.  If there is a pet, mark the pet's name down too.
  • Give the student their own house key and alarm code.  Teach them how to use these items if there is anything tricky.
  • Help the student to purchase an appropriate bus pass and teach them how to get around.  They will need to be able to get to their school and return home via transit, all without getting lost.  Translink.ca has an excellent trip planning tool on their homepage.  Print out the normal schedules to and from school for your student and teach them how to use the trip planning tool themselves.
  • Provide a nice home like space for your ESL student.  Think attractive and clean and well equipped.  Minimum standards would include good lighting, a comfortable bed, dresser, some sort of mirror, proper closet.  Provide a suitable desk or writing-table and a comfortable study chair because they are a student after all.   In BC a room must have an outside window to be considered a bedroom.  
  • Student rooms need to have a proper, preferably lockable, bedroom door.  Only a curtain is not acceptable.  Students expect and deserve some privacy, so sharing rooms is not allowed unless that is clearly part of the deal. 
  • Many students are not used to the cold damp Vancouver winters or whatever the climate is where you live.  Provide a couple of extra blankets and a fan for those hot days.  
  • The family should provide clean linen and towels, soap and toilet paper.  Shampoo and other personal care items are the student's responsibility.
  • You are the host, not the maid.  ESL students should be responsible for keeping their room clean and doing their own laundry.  Early in the stay orient the student to where the cleaning supplies are and how to use the laundry facilities.  
  • For the sake of your own family, and your student, plan to provide healthy and balanced meals with variety in the menu.  Ask about what the student likes and dislikes to eat and explore foods from your guest's country.  Eating in the student's home country-style will be fun for everyone and make them feel like home.  
  • Explain household routines and the expectations around mealtimes, showering, telephone and laundry etc.    If the student has more basic English, write out the house rules in easy English to ensure better understanding.  Then try to be tolerant with things that don't really matter.  The ESL student is often an adult, or nearly so, and should be treated as an adult.
  • At home, always speak English around the ESL student. They are living with you to assist in learning English so help to that end by providing an immersion environment.
  • Because it is an English immersion environment, do not take in more than one student at a time who speaks the same language (except at the request of the school or the students are a couple).  Always remember why the student came to study English in Vancouver.
  • If you work with a homestay agency or school only discuss fees through the agency. Your contract is with the agency or school and they have added on fees to cover what they do.  Don't discuss money with your student guest.
  • If the ESL student mentions staying longer or leaving early, discuss with the Agency. 
  • Make the ESL student feel welcome by sharing family time together.  Go for a walk, tour the City of Vancouver, grab dinner out, play games together.   
  • Share family photos and take photos with your ESL student.  Email them copies so they can share with family and friends back home.  Become friends on Facebook too.
  • Don't pry into personal matters, especially money.  This is considered bad form even more than in Canada by many cultures.  Similarly don't talk about your own financial issues and family troubles.  Spilling this type of information leads to bad feelings.
  • When dealing with a person still learning English, speak slowly and clearly and get confirmation that they understand anything important.  Consider breaking up your sentences up to allow time for the person to digest what you are saying.  If the student does not understand, they may answer yes when they really mean no, just to be polite.  This can lead to conflict and misunderstanding.
  • Have fun with your ESL student in Vancouver - many life-long close family like connections develop between ESL students and host families.  Maybe you will visit your student in their home country someday where they will host you and your family.  Maybe you will stay in touch for years and send gifts back and forth.  Be open to friendship and your ESL student will be open to friendship with you.


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