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Overcome Cultural Differences

Welcoming an international student into your home can be a rewarding experience, yet you may occasionally face challenges. Put yourself in their shoes: they are coming to live in a new country, which they may have never even visited before, and they have no idea what to expect. No matter where they are from, London can be a scary, busy place, and if the student isn’t from Europe they may experience a culture shock.

man looking at london at night

The majority of host families will tell you how much of a positive experience they have had, overall, hosting foreign students. However it is only natural to have some cultural differences which may need addressing. Host families should focus on providing a safe and welcoming environment for their student, but the first few days may be challenging as your guests adjusts to their new home.

Here are some issues you may face:

Language Barrier

Even if you are hosting a university student, you may find that their level of English is quite poor. They may have learned English at home but never had conversations with native speakers, which can be daunting. They have probably moved here to improve their English skills, so don’t expect them to be perfect! Try to speak slowly, and remember that your accent could also be confusing the student. If you are struggling to communicate, try writing down phrases and drawing pictures on a chalkboard – it is often easier to read a foreign language than to understand it verbally. Once you’ve established a relationship, why not ask your guest to teach you the basics of their first language? This can show them you are interested in their culture and heritage.


A foreign student can feel overwhelmed at first and become homesick. They may isolate themselves in their bedroom or be visibly upset because they miss their family and friends. A host should comfort their guest when needed, and encourage them to keep in contact with people back home using email and Skype. If there is a problem with their laptop or connection, it is a nice gesture to allow them to use your computer or tablet for keeping in contact.

Eating and CookingBlog 2 - food-salad-restaurant-person

It’s good to remember that overseas students will probably have different dining traditions, and may not immediately like traditional British dishes. You should know beforehand if they have chosen a meal plan or not, so you can discuss what foods they do and don’t like. There may be other differences such as what time they expect meals to be eaten, and what customs are appropriate in the kitchen and at the dining table.

It’s common to experience cultural differences, but they rarely cause serious problems during the student’s stay. If you’re having problems then take a look at the HFS Host Help Centre, or contact our team for advice.

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