Monday, March 19, 2007


My student brought back these kitschy but cute salt and pepper shakers from Arizona for me.

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.


Roy said...


When I was in university in Canada almost all of my Japanese friends were in some kind of homestay. Sometimes I would go and visit these host families to see for myself what they were like.

Most were great people and others were nightmares. I think the younger and less used to "real life" the student is, the more disappointed and bitter they will be with the experience. But I find that older people with more life experiences tend to just accept the situation and make the best of it.

I think the problems tends to be that at least half of the host families are in it for the money and not really interested in entertaining a foreign visitor, they look at it in the same way as a person renting a room.

One of my friends lived in a homestay where the host family wasn't even a family but a bunch of stoners growing pot in their basement. My friend got along great with those guys and had a very interesting homestay experience.

Shari said...

I agree very much with your conclusion that the younger they are, the harder it might be for them. My student and those who went along with her were 19-20 years old. At this age, particularly when you still live at home and are cared for by your mother, a lot of the things you encounter can be relatively hard to accept. My student mentioned twice that the student in the "bad homestay" had to "make her own dinner" as if this was a really horrible turn of events (whereas I think it was worse that she was left alone all the time).

I really laughed at the situation you mentioned about the stoners. A lot of Japanese people would freak out at that given their attitude toward drugs. I'm glad to hear your friend had a good time. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the student expects homestay to be like a hotel and refuse to do anything to help. Also the host familes are usually told to treat them just like you would your own children--which can make it very hard for them to adjust to not only the expected work but also to the freedom! My cousin in Idaho (lovely new home too) loves keeping students from S. America but she said never again from Japan as that kid just wouldn't leave his room except to eat and refused to join the family activities.

Shari said...

anonymous: I have heard about problems in particular with Japanese students and their behavior when staying with a homestay family. You make a good point about some of them not wanting to help out around the house. In fact, this is a point I warned my student about before she left. It turned out that she wasn't expected to help but at least she was prepared for that possibility.

I think this is a cross-cultural issue and a failure on the part of the agencies arranging the homestays to make expectations clear. Generally speaking, most young Japanese people who still reside with their parents don't do much housework or prepare their own meals. It doesn't even occur to them that they will be expected to assist with chores since it's outside of their normal experience in Japan. Males are likely worse than females in all regards since they aren't expected to do housework as much as females and tend to be socially more awkward on the whole, particularly at a young age.

I think the student who you mentioned who just stayed in his room is relatively atypical and may have been someone who was intimidated and afraid to mix with the family. I'm sure there are other students like him but I'm guessing the majority are more gregarious. It wouldn't surprise me at all, however, that South American students would be more enjoyable to host as they probably aren't as timid or easily intimidated.

Thanks for your comment!

Helen said...

I've had a few students go off and do homestays and it really seems that if they are an outgoing person, they have a great time, but if they are more shy they can be overwhelmed. Usually it was very positive for them, they came back eager to improve their English so that they could have a better time on their next homestay. Often, in my old Eikaiwa, when students "leveled up" to the foreign teacher's class, they thought their English was "good enough" and they could stop studying. A homestay sometimes worked as a reality check on how good their English really was or (in most cases) wasn't!

I've had students go all over the world for homestays and most of my students had great times. Some of the Japanese teachers' student's had problems because they weren't high enough to talk to the families they were matched with or they had personal problems of their own.

Shari said...

I wonder if we, as teachers teaching people with an ongoing interest in improving their English, mainly have contact with those who have good experiences. If they have bad ones, they may stop taking lessons and give up on English for quite some time.

However, I do believe most students have a good time and experience families who are kind and caring. If you take my student's group as an anecdotal example, one in twenty may have a bad time.

One of these days, I'll have to write up a blog piece about how leveling up works at many schools. That's a topic unto itself. ;-)

Nanny Haha said...

Even though I am not married, and thus do not have a family life to share with a foreigner, I would LOVE to host a person from Japan. I wish there was such a program for Americans who are single.

Shari, if you ever come across any Japanese people in your circles who want to come to the Washington DC area (where I live) for a visit, please feel free to contact me ANY time. I would be overjoyed to host them and spend time with them. (I could tell you more about me privately, should the need arise) There are soooooooo many wonderful places to visit in this town and I have an outgoing and fun personality. I can set them up with accomodations, too. The house where I live is huge and has guest rooms that are extremely affordable--way more so than a hotel in this area. These rooms are specifically available for out of town guests. Also, I am good with helping with conversational english--I have done some private tutoring in the past--so I could serve a dual purpose as host and english tutor at the same time. :)