Following on from last week's article which discussed 30 years of HOST UK - the scheme that offers international students the opportunity to be the guest of a British family - we spoke to Sarah Chan, who is in her first year studying Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, about the challenges facing international students and the benefits of going on a HOST visit.
Q.1. In your experience, what are the main obstacles to overcome as an international student studying in the UK?
For me, the challenges are threefold: making new friends with local students, getting English language support, and above all finding accommodation for the following academic years.
Making new friends is always a challenge for me personally, let alone with people from another country. I don't know why but local students don't really tend to talk to international students - I bet cultural differences might be one of the barriers. I realised drinking and going out at night are the main social activities for local students, but I don't drink, so I think that [hinders getting] to know each other in a short period of time. On the bright side, I did meet some nice local people in my student accommodation. My university provided a free English language support programme for international students which I think is really useful. I had a tutorial with one of their staff [members]; they helped me with my assignments, and tried to improve my academic writing style. Lastly, the accommodation, I think it is the most stressful part. The current hall residence that I am living in is great, but it is quite expensive. It is undesirable for me to return back to halls next year. Local students mostly had their accommodation fixed up in November, which made me feel super anxious back then.
Q.2. How did you hear about HOST and what made you decide to give it a try?
I heard about HOST last year when I was applying to university. I was trying to find out, as an international student, what kinds of support I could get from the university or any other organisations, and I found HOST by visiting my university website. I first decided to have a Christmas visit but because of the limited amount of host families, I did not successfully match with any of them. I really wanted to pay a visit to a British family because I would love to immerse myself in British culture by knowing local people. After all, hopefully, I will be studying in the UK for at least three years - it would be great for me to know more about the country.
Q.3. What were your expectations of the HOST visit, beforehand?
I expected the visit would be kind of formal, or might be a little bit awkward, since I was a total stranger to the family.
Q.4. What did you do on your HOST visit, and how did your host family help you to feel welcome?
On the day of my visit, Peter, one of my host family members, picked me up at the tram station and drove me home; it made me feel like being with my own family. I had so much fun with their lovely dog, Stanley, when we had a walk around their local area. Maddy and Peter are a really cool and lovely couple - we talked a lot about family and of course, my international student's life. They made me feel so welcome because they acted so naturally; at one point we just sat in the living room and enjoyed each other's company without having a conversation (don't get me wrong, the silence did not last so long and it was not awkward at all). They made me feel like I was in my [own] home. I assumed it must be because they are very used to having an international student as their guest; they told me a lot of stories about their hosting experiences.
Q.5. Would you recommend HOST to other international students, and why?
I would definitely recommend HOST to other international students. One of the biggest reasons is, it is always great to [get to] know local people, especially when you know they are willing to [...] have you as a guest. I am sure you can always read about the history or the social phenomenon of a country, but it is never the same as talking to people who live there. You can learn more about the [country's] culture in a way that cannot be verbally explained. Besides, personally, I prefer talking to people who are older than me, and I am genuinely very happy to meet a great couple like my host family.
If you are a university, an international student, or a individual interested in becoming a host, see www.hostuk.org and follow them on Facebook and Twitter for more information.