What do you do when on-campus accommodation isn’t available?
Homestay and residence hall programmes are widely recommended for not just offering safe accommodation, but also offering students a closer look at how people live in that country. In a homestay, a student lives as a guest in a citizen’s own home; meanwhile a residence hall is an apartment shared between students off-campus.
Sara’s Homestay is a US-based company which helps overseas students find homestay and resident hall options in America and abroad. President and owner Michael Grodinksy answered some of the most popular questions about homestay programmes for us:
A lot of international students prefer on-campus accommodation, especially in their first year. Can you tell us some of the advantages of living off-campus for those who are reluctant to live away from campus?
‘There are a few reasons more students are choosing off-campus homestays:
- The family-environment; a home away from home;
- To improve English Skills;
- It helps students familiarise themselves to a culture or city;
- Some students will live in a homestay for the first year or two to ease the transition to the US, and then move into an apartment by themselves or with friends;
- Lack of availability in on-campus housing;
- Homestays are typically lower cost than on-campus housing.’
How can a student decide if they would suit a homestay or residence hall?
'Students who choose the homestay option come in a variety of social types and lifestyle preferences. Many are looking to immerse themselves in the English language and the American culture. They want to improve their English skills, be part of the American "school spirit” (for those attending university), celebrate Thanksgiving, see the Super Bowl, and of course live the American dream. Students in a homestay programme are curious about new cultures, new habits, new people and can easily adjust to new places.
Most of the students who choose the residence option are coming to the US enrolled in programmes for Dance, the Dramatic Arts, Filmmaking, and ESL programmes that we have a close relationship with. Thus, their students feed right into the residence. The location is convenient for them to get to their classes.'
What kinds of rules can students expect when they are staying with a homestay?
‘We generally just say that students must respect the host and their home. The rules set by the host must be followed. These can range from letting the host know if the student is staying out late, to not smoking near the place. Some homes are a lot freer than others. We cannot really control every rule the host establishes, but generally students should expect to treat the home and host family as they would treat their own.
We also cater to high school students as well. These students have much stricter rules, as they are minors, but overall, this is a small segment of our student population.’
If there are any issues between the student and their host, what is the process to resolve this?
‘When bringing someone new into your home especially someone from a new culture, there are bound to be issues. Our organisation is not immune to this fact. But with our experienced staff, we have been quite attuned to resolving host-student conflict. Often times it is just simply providing some communications between the two as there may be cultural differences that can be interpreted as “rude or offensive”, when the intention was not as such. For example, students from China will not say “thank you”, as this is considered offensive in their home country. Usually, many of these issues can easily be worked out. The student or host call us, we talk out the problem, and then contact the other party. It doesn’t always work out, and we have had to move students, but more often than not, we can work it out with simple communication. Sometimes conflict and resolution is an important aspect of cross-cultural learning.’
From your experience, are there any items which international students forget to bring with them when they arrive which they’ll need?
‘Sometimes students forget plug-in adaptors, and these are not always easy to find. Or they are very highly marked up at the airport. When students arrive, they usually want to call/ email their parents, but their devices might be out of juice. One host told me that he had to run out in the middle of the night to get his student an adaptor for their computer!
Upon arrival, majority of the students seek out adapters, cell phones, and bank accounts – the essentials. Students usually want to get cell phones right when they get here, which can be difficult. Sometimes our hosts help them do that. We are looking into a way to streamline this process actually.’
How does Sarah’s Homestay go about selecting homestay hosts and properties? Is there a vetting process to ensure standards are high and students’ needs are met?
‘We send a Sara’s representative to each host applicant home to ensure that the environment is safe, clean, and contains all the basic amenities. The host is interviewed about their occupation and lifestyle activities. We also run background checks on all adults who will be living in the home when a student arrives. If a student complains or we feel the host is not living up to a proper standard, we will move the student and stop using the host. Sometimes we reject people and they become quite angry with our organisation, but we put the students first, and thus take the criticism.’
From which countries do your students come from?
‘Obviously when dealing with international education, China is a major factor, and we do have a lot of students from China. Other East Asian countries too—Japan and South Korea. But, we have had a surge of Brazilians lately too. There is a rising trend of students from Latin America, not only Brazil, but also Columbia and Chile. We initially started servicing France, so our bonds there are strong. Pretty much every European country sends us at the students and student groups every year. Summer time is by far the busiest, particularly with large groups coming from all over the world.’
What accommodation options do you offer, and where are these located?
‘We offer a few options for students. The Executive choice is the upper-end of the four alternatives. This option offers a central location and may also include one or more of the following amenities: a doorman luxury building, full-time superintendent, tastefully furnished bedroom and a private bathroom.
Our Premium or Superior option ensures that you have quick and easy access to the center of the city. The home is tastefully furnished and decorated, located in an upscale neighborhood. This option typically includes a private bathroom, and may also include a piano for music students.
The Standard homestay or shared apartment guarantees a fully-furnished private bedroom in a safe neighborhood with easy access to public transportation and a self-served breakfast daily. A single room simply means only the guest will be in that private bedroom. There is no one else in the bedroom with the guest. A double room is an option available for two guests that are traveling together and want to be in the same bedroom. A double room can have two twin beds for the guests to sleep separately or one double or queen sized bed for the guests to sleep together.
We also have a residence building in the heart of Manhattan that operates similar to a dorm. Rooms include bed, refrigerator, sink, mirror, closet, desk and chair. The building has laundry, kitchen, lounge area, computer stations and Wi-Fi
We have homestays across the US in New York, Miami, Boston, Seattle, Texas, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego - every major city actually. We also have locations around the world too, in Paris, London, Israel, Spain, Australia, Canada, Ireland, and we are working on expanding to host in China.’
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Find out more about Sara's Homestay if you're interested in a homestay option.