Tips to Hosting an International Student - In the home
In the home
Food is often the biggest problem raised by both homestay families and students. Finding a balance between what the student wants and what the host is prepared to serve can sometimes seem almost impossible. Be sensitive to any special dietary requirements. Again, communication is the key to resolving this issue, as well as a little trial and error.
- Explain on the first day how mealtimes are approached. Perhaps your student will be required to prepare breakfast themselves, or take a packed lunch. Many students have not had to prepare their own food so lead by example for the first couple of days.
- Purchasing cookbooks (Chinese, Japanese etc) may be helpful, or downloading a few simple recipes from the internet. If you are hosting students from an Asian background, rice and noodles are staple foods so have a ready supply of these for meals and as snacks the students can prepare themselves. Additionally, a bowl of steamed rice and chilli sauce at every meal will be greatly appreciated by these students.
- In the first few days, take the students grocery shopping. Ask if they would like to choose some foods for breakfast and lunches. Go shopping again in a few weeks as by this stage both of you may have a better idea of suitable foods.
"One student came to our office after being with his homestay for about three months. He was extremely angry. When he first arrived at the homestay she asked him did he like peanut butter, and would he like a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. He, of course said yes and so for the next week he had peanut butter sandwiches. He thought this was okay. She asked him the next time she was going shopping did he want more peanut butter and he still said yes, so she bought the largest jar of peanut butter she could find and this continued for the whole of the three months. The student did not feel that he could ask for anything else. When I asked the homestay about this she said that she just thought that he really liked peanut butter and hadn’t thought about it. It would have been wise for the student to communicate his unhappiness to the family, and also for the family to have asked more about it." Homestay coordinator
- Generally, students from Asian cultures hate sandwiches for lunch everyday. Leftovers are an easy way for the students to have a hot lunch as microwaves are available on campus.
- If you are happy for your student to use the kitchen, you may like to encourage the preparation of dinner once a week. This will not only give you a better idea of your student’s tastes, but also help you out!
- Some students, usually female, may be concerned about weight gain because of the change in diet habits. Discuss various ways to combat this, and provide a variety of healthy food options.
"Most of my students don’t cook… but I love my own kitchen so I personally prefer to do my own cooking. Even with lunches, I got into the habit quite early of giving them leftovers and they take that to university where they can heat it up in the microwaves. I find this more serviceable for the students as they often won’t eat sandwiches. Most don’t like bread, but eat toast, which is quite confusing at first!" Jan, homestay mother
Many international students have not been exposed to housework in the past, with many having mothers, grandmothers or even maids looking after them. It is important that whilst you acknowledge this, you also explain the Australian way of life. Discuss gender roles in Australia such as both men and women contributing to the housework and possibly also working outside the home. Explain the particular responsibilities of the students such as keeping their own room tidy, cleaning up after themselves in the bathroom and kitchen and doing their own laundry if necessary. For the first few weeks your student may need to be shown how to do some of these chores (eg washing dishes) in a way that meets your expectations. Other maintenance such as washing cars or cleaning the pool is not considered part of the student’s responsibilities.
- Although a certain amount of hand-holding is necessary, your student is here to learn about your culture and so, if you are comfortable with this arrangement, they can be challenged to contribute to the household.
- Show your student how to do something (such as laundry), rather than doing it for them. Teaching by example will equip your student with skills that can be used throughout their lives.
- The provider is expected to undertake general cleaning including the student’s bedroom. Students may assist with setting and clearing the table and washing the dishes. However, your student is not expected to do additional household chores such as babysitting, child minding, gardening or cleaning the pool for nothing.
- Many female students find it embarrassing washing and drying their underwear in public. Respect this sensitivity and indicate somewhere private they can hang their clothes.
"When my clothes are hung on the line sometimes my homestay father helps get the clothes off the line; it doesn’t feel comfortable for me. Even my father in Japan doesn’t do that." Female homestay student
Much of what we do and say is culturally specific. It is important to be aware that what you may think is normal may be quite unusual in places like Japan or China. Be patient with your students if they have difficulty understanding your habits, and try to explain the different way of life whenever possible.
- Refrain from using inappropriate language around your students.
- Be culturally sensitive. Most women would find their homestay father hugging them to be uncomfortable or threatening so be aware of what is acceptable for your student.
- If you find some behaviour is making you feel uncomfortable – tell them. It is important that you feel comfortable in your own home.
- Explain accepted etiquette in Australia such as knocking before entering a private room, not interrupting when someone is speaking, chewing with your mouth closed etc. Ask about their own culture’s etiquette to share knowledge rather than being directive.
- Observant students will learn by example, so be aware of your own behaviour and ways of interacting with the family.
- Respect your student’s religious practices. However, if you are not comfortable with something such as burning incense inside the home, negotiate a suitable arrangement.
- Tips on hosting Muslim students are also available from the Homestay Office.
If you need to be away from home for two or more days and are unable to take the student with you, please contact QUT Homestay Office to discuss the situation. You might like to consider the following options:
- Leave the student in your home to take care of themselves. Always discuss with your student whether they are comfortable to be left alone at home.
- Contact a family member or friend to look after the student.
- If none of the above is suitable, the Homestay Office may consider moving the student.
For under 18 students homestay host planing to go away (even for one night) needs to contact the Homestay office immediately. Under 18 students must never be left alone at home without supervision by an authorised adult.
Other issues around the home
- If the students come from countries where dogs and cats are not treated as pets or allowed in the house they may be nervous or wary, and should be introduced slowly to the pets.
- Respect your student’s privacy by knocking before you enter the student's room, and always tell the student that you have gone into their room when they are not home because their room is the only private space they have. Try not to keep frequently used items, such as the vacuum cleaner, in the student's room.
- Most students will have no idea about the water situation in Australia and therefore may use the shower longer than you find to be acceptable. Approach your student about it by asking what their showering habits are, and then explain the drought situation, and the water restrictions which have been implemented to save water. If this is an issue you are not prepared to compromise on, indicate this.
- It may be wise to install water saving devices like showerheads and timers as this issue is sometimes ongoing.
"Bathrooms can be a problem. Some students have no idea that someone else might want to use the bathroom and they can stay there for ages. I had a Japanese student who used to have a shower first, and then a bath, as is the custom in Japan. I just put up with it because I knew that’s what she was accustomed to. It’s very difficult because if a student doesn’t have good enough English it may be hard for him or her to understand. It may be good to ask about what the students do back home and then explain the custom in Australia. And then perhaps compromise by saying ‘okay, perhaps you could have a bath and shower only one night a week’." Former homestay mother