Monday, March 19, 2007
Many Japanese people, particularly young ones, go on homestays in foreign countries to allow them to experience life in another country and to give them a chance to practice English. For those who aren't familiar with what a homestay is, it's when a person from one country lives in the home of a native of another country for a relatively short time. The idea is for the visitor to be incorporated into the family and have a more meaningful social interaction than he or she would a a tourist.
Homestays aren't limited to young people though. My 64-year-old student and his wife also have gone on homestays and they are planning to go on another this year. The main difference between the old and the young is the younger people often do their stays in conjunction with a study program such as attending English conversation schools or attending short-term college or university programs. The older folks tend to go for more of a cultural exchange and pursue various activities they enjoy. My older student particularly enjoys playing golf in Florida as part of his homestays.
One of my students recently returned from a trip to Arizona where she stayed for two weeks with a family. Her trip included a good deal of sightseeing such as planned trips to the Grand Canyon and Native American sites. The company that contracted with her university to provide the arrangments for homestays for all the students also set up a lot of structured activities. This included things like visiting a cactus museum and taking a jeep tour of the desert with an old man who pretended to be a cowboy named "Kimosabe".
The family she stayed with took her skiing, to dinner, and were generally interested in spending time with her and talking to her about her life in Japan. She returned from her homestay very happy and wanting to attend school in Arizona so she could spend a lot more time there.
My student took her trip through an agency in Japan. There are a lot of these types of businesses in Japan. They either pay a family in the U.S. to take someone in for awhile. Some families offer to host a foreign visitor because they really want to offer a good experience to a foreign person. A few families do it because they really want the money.
My student got lucky because her host family was the former type. One of the other students who went to Arizona with her group wasn't so lucky. She was with a family that was never around and said that they were too busy working to do much of anything with her, including provide any meals. That student wanted nothing more during her time in the United States than to get back to Japan.
I find myself wondering if my student will end up enjoying her English studies and seeing them as a means of improving her travel in the future whereas the other student may decide she dislikes English and would prefer not to travel as much in the future, or at the least that she will not want to go to America. A lot depends on the sensitivity of the person but I have had other students who allowed one negative experience to put them off of seeking out related experiences for a very, very long time.