Whenever the bank balance looks unhealthy, I use the spare room to host students and teachers from local language schools. They stay for a fortnight, you give them bed and board, a packed lunch and the bus timetable. In return, you get paid (around £250). This works well, if you have extra space in your home and are not opposed to turning up at the designated car park at the specified time to be assigned your bewildered students as they step off the coach. It’s rather like suddenly acquiring a couple of (hungry) teenage children (with minimal English).
Bedrooms must be an actual bedroom. Not a cupboard under the stairs!
It’s rarely an uneventful fortnight. We lurch from one tearful teenage crisis (Spanish sim card not working) to another (lost earrings/sprained ankle/fall-out with friends). The teachers aren’t without their dramas, either. One Russian guest lost a dozen 15 year-old girls. She hadn’t told them which station to get off the train at. Some girls ended up stranded, and hysterical, at the end of the line in Portsmouth & Southsea. Others had taken it upon themselves to make their own way back , oblivious to their teacher’s frantic search.
We lurch from one tearful teenage crisis to another.
It’s a fascinating lesson in our cultural differences. And time differences, too, as I once discovered at 5am. I was woken up by loud skype chat coming from the landing, just outside my bedroom, where the wifi signal was presumably strongest. She wanted to catch her family at home in Turkey before they went out for the day.
Bedrooms have to be, and I quote from the agency guidelines, an ‘actual bedroom’. This wording was chosen to dissuade those hoping to pass off their under-the-stairs cupboard as adequate sleeping space for two. This was rumoured to have happened, once, when an unscrupulous chancer rigged up a bunk bed in a space most of us would only use to store the hoover. How he escaped the usual rigorous home inspection visit I do not know.
Plan to spend as little as possible on groceries to maximise the profit from the hosting fee, but without leaving guests hungry. Shopping at Lidl often means, ironically, serving food that more closely resembles meals from their home country than from Britain. The agency suggested I should dish up whatever I would normally cook (this would be so much more fun if I routinely made beans on toast). At mealtimes, hosts are expected to offer cultural insights and encourage the students to speak English. Initially, dinners can be awkward affairs. Suspicious, they’re prone to inspecting each morsel of unfamiliar food on their plate. I try to overlook the ‘is this arsenic?’ expressions on their faces and ask them about their day. Their language skills improve dramatically during their stay, gradually becoming confident enough to chat happily about their excursions and – more importantly – their latest purchases in Top Shop.
Here are some examples of Homestay agencies.
Tempted now? Ask your local language schools for information on applying to be a homestay host.