WHAT IS A HOMESTAY?
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Homestay is a form of tourism and/or study abroad program that allows the visitor to rent a room from a local family to better learn the local lifestyle as well as improve their language ability.
While homestays can occur in any destination worldwide, some countries do more to encourage homestay than others as a means of developing their tourism industry.
Hosting a homestay participant also allows the local family to earn some additional, needed income. Having low profitability, as it is, homestay can not be regarded as strictly commercial activity, but more of cross cultural exchange.
Types of homestays
Homestay scenarios can range from a completely immersive family experience, to a very basic room rental.
In the immersive family experience a homestay guest lives, eats, and shares the majority of their time in the host country with the hosts and their family. Family events such as dining out, amusement parks, camping, travel, etc. usually involve the host student who may or may not be expected to pay a portion for the participation (tickets, parking, gas, travel expenses, et al.) The student is invited to participate in Holiday festivities (Hari Raya, Maulud Nabi, etc.) and family events (weddings, birthdays, etc.)
At the other end of the spectrum, guests may simply be renting a room within a private home with minimal supervision from a host or family (THIS IS THE NATURE OF LANGKAWI BLAQUE VILLA HOMESTAY)
Additionally, there are a working homestay agreements where a student is expected to perform duties such as yard work, farm work, babysitting, maid services - usually in exchange for accommodation fees or as part of.
Typical contracts and agreements
A clash of cultures can sometimes result between a homestay guest and the host family. To mitigate any issues, most homestay arrangements involve a contract or written agreement between the host and guest. A contract will outline what is expected of the homestay student and may include items such as;
- Chores to perform (cleaning, laundering)
- Use of the Internet, television
- Use of the telephone
- Guest visits
- Smoking/drinking rules
as well as the details of what is being provided by the host in terms of:
- Meal provisions
- Communications (Internet, telephone)
- Entertainment (TV, radio)
Generally, a host must provide a private room for sleep and study that has a lock and a washroom must be available that is convenient for the guest to use. Most other items are negotiable in terms of availability and price.
Risks for the host
Typically, hosting a homestay guest is a rich and rewarding experience that allows the sharing of cultures, information, and experience. However, being abroad is often the first time the homestay guest is away from the parents and home country. This may result in adjustment issues for the guest. The host must be able to deal with separation issues, anxiety, and the like.
Scams on the internet are becoming fairly commonplace - when engaging in financial transactions that may require international payments, cheques, and money orders being sent there is always the possibility of making oneself vulnerable to scams and fraud. The host family is best to educate themselves on the issues, and protect themselves adequately through the use of a good contract.
A recent and common example of a scam perpetrated on host families plays as follows;
- Parents of a student email the host family to request a room - usually claiming to be from Europe/Asia.
- The host replies with availability and costs etc.
- The parent agrees to the fees, and offers to pay the fees up front.
- Usually some sort of family crisis arises, and the transaction must be handled with urgency.
- The parent sends payment with an overage, and ask the host to refund the excess payment.
- The host family refunds the payment.
- The initial payment (cheque, money order, etc.) bounces or is fraudulent.
- The host family has lost the money it has sent as a refund.
This scam can happen in any situation any time payment is required in the form of cheque/money order/cashiers cheque, etc. In-depth discussion on frauds of this type is beyond the scope of this article, but the host family is encouraged to exercise caution when dealing with overseas payments and transactions.
Risks for the homestay guest
There are two basic motivations for a family to engage in the operation of a homestay:
- The family is looking to assist guests, inject culture, and better understand the world and its people through a mutual exchange of traditions, knowledge and culture.
- The family is looking to augment their income.
Usually, a family bears a healthy mix of these two reasons in opening their home to guess and international visitors.
Occasionally, however, there are instances where a family, or individual, is looking only to capitalize on the financial opportunity and has little or no concern for the interests of the guest.
A guest is encouraged to look at the history of guests that the family has hosted, and to ask for a reference from a guest who has recently attended their homestay. If a family refuses to give a reference, a student is advised to stay away. Also, look for a contract that not only protects the interests of the homestay host, but also the interests of the student. There should be a clear listing of the obligations of both the student and host family.
People who travel to other countries may not want to spend their time with a tour guide provided by the tourist authority, and they may not want to stay in a chain hotel. In some countries, this desire to experience the "real" culture can be accomplished through a homestay. A homestay means that the traveler lives with a family for at least part of his or her trip. This enables a traveler to experience life as it is lived day to day in the host country. A homestay can often be arranged through a travel agent, or through Web sites that specialize in matching families and travelers.
A traveler looking for a homestay should first apprise the travel agent of his or her personal preferences. Is he a smoker, for instance? Is he vegetarian? An observant Jew? Allergic to animals or certain foods? Traits such as these should be taken into consideration when matching a host family and a guest. The traveler should also remember that he is visiting the country to absorb some of its culture, and so should expect to try new things in his hosts' home.
A homestay can be a great experience if the traveler follows a few simple guidelines. First, he needs to acquaint himself with the customs of the country he is visiting. Most host families will be tolerant of some faux pas, but the traveler should make sure he is aware of basic courtesy, such as removing one's shoes before entering a home. Politeness in every country is a key to making the stay a happy one.
Second, a traveler should never arrive at a homestay without some gift for the hosts. A gift of chocolates is welcome, as are mementos from the visitor's country, such as postcards, or pens and mugs with his state's or company's name on them, for instance.
Third, a traveler should remember that this is a home, not a hotel. Room service is not provided. He should make his own bed each morning, offer to help with the dishes or the laundry, and so on. Depending on the country, the hosts may refuse to allow him to help, but they will appreciate the offer. Insofar as possible, a traveler should also participate in the family activities. Insofar as possible, he should never be a hindrance to the hosts' usual routine.
Students often have the opportunity to participate in a homestay as part of an academic program, and these are usually memorable. A homestay opens a window into another culture as few other experiences can. It is a win-win situation in which everyone learns something new.
1. ^ Rivers, William P. (1998). "Is Being There Enough? The Effects of Homestay Placements on Language Gain During Study Abroad". Foreign Language Annals 31 (4): 492–500. doi:10.1111/j.1944-9720.1998.tb00594.x. http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ581914&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ581914.
2. ^ "Three Interesting Events On Selangor Tourism 2008 Itinerary". Malaysian National News Agency. 2008-05-16. http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v3/news_features.php?id=333445. Retrieved 2008-05-26.
3. ^ The Geddes Family Homestay A typical Family Homestay - This site features a contract that is public domain, you may use/copy/distribute any of their documents.
4. ^ Fraud Alert on the ESL Teachers Forum A thread citing example scam emails and the common modes/methods of scammers