Fact Sheet: Helpful Hosting Hints
The following information covers some helpful hints designed to assist hosts to get the most out of the time with their student and to avoid common miscommunications.
Successful hosting can be marred by stereotyping. International students are made up of many different cultures and often function outside their cultural framework when they are free to do so. Consequently, it is safe to assume that every student is an individual just as all Australians are individual. Presuming that every student you host from Asia will be the same or every student you host from Europe will be the same will only bring about confusion and probably disappointment. Greet each student with a fresh approach and you will find hosting far more rewarding.
In some cultures, a “Guest” in a home is not expected to do anything; the Guest is treated like visiting royalty. However, in Australia in a Homestay situation, the student will be expected to do many things for themselves. It is important then that the student is informed of what is expected of them in a Homestay situation. Generating a simple list of things the student is expected to do in your home can be a good idea for these students, but most importantly they will need to be shown, maybe more than once, how to do these things. Using the vacuum cleaner on a Saturday morning to keep their room clean, using the washing machine, how to peg their laundry on the line, how to iron and how to leave the bathroom dry are all examples of what needs to be shown.
In many cultures, time is viewed very flexibly. While this may be appropriate in those cultural settings, it is often not so in an Australian context. It may lead to students not being on time for meals and other events, causing problems for their host. It is important to communicate to the student that it can be seen as being impolite and inconsiderate if they do not adhere to the time commitments they make. This will usually alter such behaviour.
Friendliness and openness on the part of members of the host family, particularly female members, can sometimes be construed by some male students as being sexually inviting. It is important to remember that Australians are much more relaxed and openly flirtatious than is considered socially acceptable in many cultures. Thus, it is normally better to greet students with a smile and a nod than a hug, which some students will find most intrusive.
Sometimes the way international students speak English can be mistaken to be aggressive. It needs to be understood that different languages have different accents, intonations and sounds and, when applied to English, may appear aggressive, but is actually not so. Some students will have been rote taught, learning their English by repeating whole sentences. Therefore, if the sentence is not delivered exactly as they have learned it, then they may not understand what you are saying. Time will correct that, so be patient!
Hosts need to be aware that some topics of conversation or discussion should be treated as taboo, until they know the student very well. Some of these topics would include alcohol, sex, female members of the student’s family, and religion.
Gestures and eye contact
Some people “speak” with their hands, and this is especially true of Europeans. However, gesturing can mean different things in different countries so it is best to avoid hand gestures where possible. Eye contact too can be misunderstood. In Australia it is customary to look someone in the eye when speaking, but in some countries looking away can be a sign of respect.
Students from different cultures have different food requirements. For example, Muslim students will require food to be “Halal” and students from the Indian sub-continent will not eat chicken and fish. However, within these requirements, individual students will have their own preferences, so the host needs to be aware that not all cultural food will appeal to all students of that culture. If you have a student who asks for specific food (e.g. six eggs for breakfast), remember that it is not the host’s responsibility to worry about the student’s high cholesterol risk. A carton of eggs is comparatively cheap if small cage eggs are purchased. Being able to afford six eggs in some countries is a sign of wealth.
Rice and MeatSometimes an Asian student will compare rice to meat and expect meat at all three meals. It should be politely explained that bread is the comparison to rice, not meat. When first greeting a student, the host should ask them what foods they enjoy. (It is also very unwise to presume that if a student asks for "rice" that they want to eat it without accompaniments.)
Students from some cultures will not tolerate dogs or cats at all. They believe that animals are ‘unclean’ and should be kept outside, if they are to be kept at all. If you have a pet it is important to declare it. There are plenty of students who enjoy animals but it is unfair on both host and pet for the inside animal to be put outside when they are not used to it. It is important too that the animal is restrained on a student’s arrival. There is nothing worse than being greeted by an over exuberant pet jumping up at you when you first arrive at the Homestay home. The animal may be friendly but this can be terrifying to a student unused to pets behaving in such a way.