HOST UK's mission: To promote international friendship and understanding by welcoming international students as guests in British homes, and vision: A world more understanding and accepting of different cultures, feel as vital as ever in 2017 as the organisation celebrates its 30th anniversary. The only charitable organisation of its kind, HOST is comprised of a network of over 1500 visited and approved volunteer hosts throughout the UK who open their homes to international students for either a one-day or weekend visit. Over Christmas, students often stay for three nights; a welcome option at a time of year which can be especially isolating for those without - or living away from - family.
At present, 79 UK universities subscribe to HOST. The charity organises HOST Social events at these institutions, allowing international students to learn a bit about HOST, to have a short introduction to British culture, and to socialise with other international students who are facing the same challenges of studying and living in a different culture. It involves a presentation, an ‘ice breaker’ quiz on British culture, refreshments, and opportunities for socialising before and after the event.
The idea of the HOST visit is to offer the student a sense of 'a home from home' as they take a break from studying. It allows them to experience everyday life in the UK and to learn more about the history or context of the local area. Typical activities include cooking, eating together, chatting and sharing ideas, learning about each others' lives and cultures, trying the host's hobby, going on outings and day trips, or even joining in with a community activity. Vennela Rayavarapu (left) - an international student from India says of her host family: “I must say staying with you has been like going back home.”
Any full-time student can request a HOST visit (providing they are over 18 years of age and have been enrolled on their university or college course for at least 3 months), and they can even bring an international student friend, or a family member if they also live in the UK. The initiative addresses some of the issues faced by international students when they move to a new country, including: homesickness, culture shock, making new friends, and finding the confidence to find their way around an unfamiliar place. Vineet Mittal - also an international student from India - explains his initial apprehension regarding his HOST visit, and how his hosts put him at ease:
“I was expecting that the environment at the HOST family's home might get a bit uncomfortable or awkward but this never happened. I felt at home and everything was very cozy and comfortable. Judith and Roger showed me around their town, respected my faith and food habits and were very intrigued in knowing about me and my culture. We had very interesting discussions. I met their friends and family as well. They would always guide me through everything and I hardly had to ask for anything. It was a very memorable visit. I will cherish these memories forever."
Vineet with his hosts Judith and Roger on Berrow Beach
Vineet continues, "I encourage all students especially international students to go on a HOST visit. This is a very interesting and different experience from the start. You get out of your university and see more of UK, especially the countryside. You get to learn so much about the family's culture, food, faith and their way of life. They are very interested in knowing about you and very insightful discussions follow. Don't miss this great and unique opportunity.”
Many volunteer hosts report finding the experience similarly rewarding as Fiona Buck (left) from London, explains “I have now been a HOST for quite a few years and all I can say is I think it is a wonderful experience.”
As part of their anniversary celebrations, HOST will be running a 30th Anniversary Conference for all volunteer Regional Organisers, and they are also planning a 30th Anniversary Celebration in London with their funders and subscribing universities, alongside a number of local parties for their volunteer hosts.
Read our interview with international student, Sarah Chan, who recently went on a HOST visit, here.