How times have changed. Most Europeans who were on a language exchange to Britain before the 1990s have horror stories to tell. Inferior food served in a separate room to the host family is a quite common tale. So too are icy bedrooms with a ban on heating. But those days, thankfully, are long gone. Paid-for stays in a British home today are all about creating a positive, homely, educational holiday for the visitor. Children from around the world are keen to pay up to £650 a week stay in a British home today. For their money, they expect comfortable bedrooms and homemade meals as a minimum. Some one-to-one language tuition and educational day trips are also valued. But the secrets of good hosting go beyond these basics, say successful hosts.
Essex couple Kerry and Camelia Flitter, who have an eight-year old son, have been hosting overseas children since 2001. They make a special effort to reassure children when they first arrive. “The number-one priority when a foreign child comes to stay is the reassurance that they are accepted,” says Kerry. He explains, “We try to include them right away. We tell them: ‘That’s the fridge. Help yourself whenever you like’. Having two cats and a dog also helps to break the ice and make them feel more at home.”
For Lizzie Foulon and her husband, who have been hosting language students aged 13-18 for the past seven years in their Lincolnshire home, a successful stay begins months before the day of arrival. Lizzie says success is about matching interests between host and guest. “You have to get a good idea of what the visiting child likes,” says Lizzie. She often spends months discussing the child’s likes and dislikes by email with the parents before a stay is agreed. To prevent mismatches, Lizzie hosts paid-for stays through language exchange website Lingoo. “The advantage of going through Lingoo is that it allows you to be selective about which children you host because you can share so much information beforehand. We’ve had up to 300 enquiries but because we believe matched interests are critical to a happy visit we’ve only hosted a handful,” says Lizzie.
Kerry agrees. As a keen golfer, he ensures the boys aged 14-17 who come to stay will enjoy a round of golf with him and his son. “This year we have an Italian boy who is coming for two weeks and he wants to play golf every day of his stay,” says Kerry, adding, “It keeps me young.” Fun-filled days that immerse young guests in British daily life to improve their English are important. But so too is a little sensitivity when required, says retired journalist Chris Williamson. He and his wife Vicky, a schoolteacher, have been providing immersive language-learning opportunities to children from the age of 11 and older since 2001. Chris says, “We try to fill their days with interesting activities but you also learn to recognise when they want to be alone and just do nothing. Downtime can be equally important.” As a qualified TESOL teacher, he and his wife regularly provide two hours of English lessons in the morning with trips and sports every day. But he says, “The lessons mustn’t feel like school because it’s a holiday, after all.” So good hosting is about creating a home-from-home for the guest child, with clear rules, plenty of learning opportunities and a holiday atmosphere. So nothing, in short, like the language exchanges endured by previous generations.
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