Could you host a foreign student?

Emma Woollacott
A portrait of an Asian college student on campus
A portrait of an Asian college student on campus

How would you like a lodger that does as they're told and pays up to twice the normal going rate?

It may seem too good to be true; and of course nothing's ever that simple. But an increasing number of people are discovering the advantages of becoming a host family for foreign students.

There are thousands of language schools around the country offering term-time and summer courses, and needing safe, comfortable accommodation for their pupils. You don't actually have to be a family - single people, flat-sharers and the like are generally welcome - but you do need to be able to provide a homely environment and a certain level of supervision. You'll also need to use English as the main language in the home.

Arrangements vary, but generally involve providing room and board for a teenager who will be out attending classes through the day. Different schools have different requirements, varying from just bed and continental breakfast to full board with laundry thrown in.

Stays vary in duration, depending on whether the student is attending a full-time course or merely a summer school, meaning it's easy to dip in your toes on a short-term basis to see whether hosting suits you.

And the rates of pay can be surprisingly high - up to £200 a week in a hot-spot such as London or Oxford. To get this much, you'd probably need to be providing an ensuite, private room with full board. But even a pair of teenagers sharing a room and sharing the family bathroom could bring in up to £100 a week each.

Outside the bigger cities, rates will be far lower, but generally much higher than for an adult lodger.

And there are other benefits. Hosts talk of the opportunities for cultural exchange, and the educational effect hosting has on their own children. Many form life-long friendships, and visit former lodgers abroad.

Of course things sometimes do go wrong.

"I had one Italian girl who, every time I came into the kitchen, was putting inappropriate things in the toaster - cheese sandwiches, I think she once even tried to put pasta in it," says Emily Ormerod, who hosts up to half a dozen students at any one time in the home she shares with her young son in Oxford.

Other issues, she says, are "Foreign phone calls. Staying out past curfews, smoking, doing things that are lazy and inconsiderate - all of which I suppose are natural because they are teenagers."

But generally speaking, most students are quiet and well-behaved, and you should always have the support of the school itself in dealing with any problems.

So how do you get started?

The International Association of Language Centres and English UK both have lists of language schools, and Kaplan International Colleges runs about 40 around the country.

It's also worth calling the accommodation offices of any universities within striking distance of your home. Boarding schools, meanwhile, often need hosts for children that are unable to return home in the holidays, and this can be a great way of trying hosting out by taking in a child for a week at half-term.

You'll be paid by the school, rather than directly by the student or their parents. There's a tax-free allowance on money you make from your home, which means you won't have to declare any income under £4,250 a year. You will, though, need to make sure that hosting is permitted under the terms of your mortgage and insurance.

And hosting a foreign student does involve a great deal more responsibility than taking in a lodger. You can't push off on holiday for a fortnight and leave them alone, for example, though you don't have to be on hand at all times.

You'll need to be able to provide a clean, comfortable room, with a desk as well as the usual bedroom furniture, and these days internet access is pretty much a must. And you'll probably be doing the student's laundry and cooking dinner - which can be a little unnerving when students come from a completely different culture.

"The cooking terrified me. But it's the same as having a family, you find out what your family will eat," says Emily. "I started off with a basic repertoire of about three weeks' meals. There's always going to be one dish that someone can't stand, so instead of just having one thing I have lots, so if they don't like the salad they'll like something else."

A good school will try and make the best match possible, taking into account any preference for girls or boys, or whether students are happy to live in a house with pets.

"Look for a school that's as local as possible, because that way the students will be happier, and one that has excellent pastoral care for its students," says Emily. "Try and find one that seems to be most supportive of the host families - and some seem more organised than others."

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