HFS London host family, Sarah Harvey, writes a short piece for us on her experiences of hosting international students in her family home in Kentish Town and her decision to host as opposed to take in lodgers:
“German, Turkish, Mexican, Canadian, and Thai. These are just some of the nationalities that, as a host family, we have opened up our home to over the last two years.
The decision to welcome anyone into your family home, irrespective of their nationality, is not one that any family will come to without consideration and thought.
Why did we decide to host students?
For us, we had shared our home in Kentish Town with a lodger in the past. Deciding to host students as opposed to taking in a lodger was not a huge leap. We are a sociable family and were already very comfortable sharing our space with others. Our personal and family time, however, was becoming more precious to us and we came to the point where the idea of shorter term and more intermittent stays appealed much more than what we had been used to with a lodger.
The students’ stays have mostly been weeks rather than months. Our Canadian student, however, did end up staying with us for 6 months but he fitted in well with family so we were happy for him to stay a bit longer.
Age groups we have hosted
The majority of our guests have been students between 18 and 30 years old. We would also consider hosting students between 16 and 18. If a younger student were suggested to us, I would need to consider such a placement a little more before agreeing. Younger students can be less independent and need more looking after (having said that I know 16 year olds here in London that are as mature as 30 year olds….and vice versa). Part of the flexibility we have is that we do not have to host every student that the agency contacts us about. We also tell them when we want to host and when maybe we need a break.
What meal options we have decided to offer
One of the reasons we decided to host students when we started was that we wanted something more family orientated than what we had been used to. Although we are not required to cook for our students, we prefer that they share dinner with the family. I know other host families prefer students to cater for themselves but our kitchen is quite small and we eat at the same time every evening. It is not really any more work for us to cook a bit more and it can be quite nice when they offer to set the table or help with the washing up afterwards. The conversation is always interesting as the students literally bring the world into our home. It is a nice cultural exchange for our family and each student will be a different experience for us.
How our children have taken to the experience
We have two young (but very curious) children and they are always interested in their international guests. In fact, for some reason we actually find that they behave better when there are students in our home! I can see that even at a young age it is broadening the children’s horizons a little and shows them that different people do things in different ways. I am sure that when they are older it will be something very positive that they remember of their childhood experiences.
Is hosting overseas students safe?
As a family with young children, one of the most important things to us was having trust in the people that share our home. When we initially registered to host students it was made clear that universities and language schools where the students study have to go through a thorough process before they can sponsor a student from abroad to study at their institution and over the last two years we have been very reassured. The students are usually from similar backgrounds and have tended to be here for a specific goal or purpose. There is usually an anxious mum and dad waiting for them at home and for many of them it is their first time in London so they can also a little anxious themselves. They often rely on your support, mainly initially, to help them find their feet.
How much money we earn from be a host family
I have not as yet touched on the subject of money. Of course this is an important motivation when anyone decides to make use of a spare room in their home. Payment is always organised by the educational institution and the agency so we do not have to worry about this. As Homestay is shorter term and can be intermittent by nature, you may not earn as much if you chose to take in a lodger. For our family, however, the reason we host students that we value our space and family time and prefer the flexibility of being able to decide when we host and when we don’t. We look at the money we earn as another way to contribute to family holidays, to help with the bills, eating out etc. as opposed to a substantial secondary income.
Hosting students may not be the right option everyone, but I can honestly say that it has been a really positive and worthwhile experience for us. Our family is growing so we may not have the space that we had. I now aim to persuade my husband to buy a bigger house so that we can carry on hosting (and so that we can have a bigger house!) but this I fear may be much easier said than done.”
A note from HFS London…
Firstly, thank you to our lovely homestay host Sarah for having taken the time to contribute to our blog! We wanted to add a note on the subject of tax on income from hosting international students:
The UK Rent a Room Scheme, which does apply to Host Families taking in foreign students, lets you earn up to a threshold of £7,500 per year tax–free from letting out furnished accommodation in your home. This was recently increased from £4,250 as the government has tried to encourage more people to open up their homes. The tax exemption is automatic if you earn less than the £7,500 threshold.
If you are reading this and are thinking about becoming a host family to foreign students, then you can read about How it Works for new hosts if you want. The process of registering is very straight forward. We will have to come and meet you and see your accommodation as we are ourselves overseen by the British Council. Our home assessors, Gaynor and Sandy, are lovely and will walk you through the inspection process step by step. They have been visiting new hosts for many years so will make the registration as easy for you as possible.
If you have read enough and wish to kick off the registration process now, then please complete our registration form here.