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Homestay is a form of tourism and/or study abroad program that allows a visitor to rent a room from a local family in a homelike setting. It is sometimes used for improving language skills and getting familiar with the local lifestyle. Homestays can occur anywhere in the world, but certain countries encourage homestay as a means of developing their tourism industry. Hosting a homestay participant also allows the local family to earn income. Students tend to arrange a homestay with their school or educational institution, but they can also informally arrange to stay with a family through social connections and a variety of private agencies. There are a number of online homestay agencies that connect students with hosts all over the world, usually for a nominal fee.
Homestay scenarios range from a complete family experience to a single-room rental.
The goal of a homestay is for the student to be entirely immersed in their host culture, as he/she lives, eats, and shares the majority of his/her time in the host country with the host family. In addition to typical daily activities, family events can involve activities such as dining out, going to amusement parks, camping, traveling and so on. Homestays usually involve a student, who may be expected to pay a portion of the activity-related costs, e.g., tickets, parking, gas and travel expenses. The student may also be invited to participate in holiday festivities such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, or family events like weddings and birthdays. Host families can play a pseudo-parental role, giving advice and sometimes supervising students' activities. In many homestays, families also act as cross-cultural advisers, helping the students understand and adjust to the culture. In other homestays, students may simply be renting a room within a private home with minimal supervision from the host. There are also working homestay agreements where a student is expected to perform duties such as yard work, farm work, babysitting, or maid services.
To minimize difficulties, most homestay arrangements involve a contract or written agreement between the host and the student. A contract typically outlines what is expected of the homestay student and may include items such as:
Agreements may also give the details of what is being provided by the host:
Generally, a host must provide a private room (with a lock) for sleep and study and a washroom which is available for the student to use. Most other items are negotiable in terms of availability and price.
Typically, hosting a homestay student is an interesting experience that allows for the sharing of cultures, information, and experience. However, studying abroad is often the first time a homestay student is away from his or her parents and home country. As a result, students may have difficult adjusting. The host must be able to deal with separation issues, anxiety, and similar difficulties. In fact, research has shown that both hosts and homestay students may exhibit symptoms of mild culture shock and must adjust accordingly. On the other hand, host families, including host children, learn about other cultures in a unique way. Many host families stay in touch with their students long after they return to their home countries.
Scams on the internet are becoming fairly commonplace. When engaging in financial transactions that may require international payments, checks, or money orders, there is always the possibility of scams and fraud. Host family members should educate themselves on the issues and protect themselves adequately through good contracts. A common example of a scam is the "Advance Fee" fraud, where the scammer overpays with a fraudulent or stolen check, and asks for a refund before the fraud is noticed.
There are two basic motivations for a family to engage in the operation of a homestay:
Usually, a family bears a healthy mix of these two reasons in opening their home to students 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 student.
A student is encouraged to look at the history of students and guests that the family has hosted and to ask for a reference from a student who has recently been a part of a homestay with the family. If a family refuses to give a reference, a student is advised to consider other hosts. Also, a student should 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.