WHEREVER I LAY MY HAT
ISSUE #19 | THE PIE REVIEW | 55
“We want them
practising their English
and being forced into
a cultural situation they
have to embrace
Getting acquainted with another family
At the other end of the spectrum, homestay can be popular,
especially for short-term language students and those seeking
an entrance into a cultural family setting.
The big buzzword, according to chief executive officer
at Australian Homestay and American Homestay Network,
Julie Manché, is immersion. “With homestays they’re really
getting that American experience, staying with an American
family,” she says. “They want to experience that lifestyle.”
The cycle of hanging around with other international stu-dents,
typical in shared housing, is broken with a homestay,
“In shared housing with other international students …
they are just going to flock together,” she says. “We want
them practising their English and being forced into a cultural
situation they have to embrace.”
For some students, homestay can be an easy transition
to longer term housing. “Get into the country, have the host
show them around the local community, get them set up
with sim cards and transport cards … then they have the
option to go into longer term housing,” exemplifies Man-ché.
For other students, homestay hosts can keep an eye on
young students, giving parents peace of mind.
This is something Australian online platform BEDSSI’s
founder, Ricardo Gutierrez, understands. Most international
students initially rent places for the short-term, he says.
Four to six weeks. “They worry they won’t like the place,”
Gutierrez explains. “They can be afraid of committing to
Gutierrez points out that the overarching problem with
Australia’s quality PBSA is that not everyone can afford
these residential apartments, due to short supply and high
prices. “To put it into perspective, there are universities with
8,000-9,000 beds, but they have 60,000 students.” The buil-dings
are popular with Europeans, Americans and Chinese
students, he says. Many others cannot afford them.
PBSAs often have a minimum length of stay – meaning
students on short exchanges miss out too.
For James McCall, accommodation director of
Londonhomestays.com and ukstudentresidences.com
in the UK, this problem begged a solution – if you can’t
beat them, join them. The company has diversified to offer
short-term residences in PBSA as well as homestay. “During
summer people want to stay for a short time. Maybe three
to four weeks for language courses,” McCall says. The com-pany
buys the space for the whole of the summer and then
breaks it up to rent short term.
For McCall, it’s not that one is better than the other in
terms of residences versus homestays. “It depends on the
person and what they want to gain from the student travel
experience,” he says.
One other trend is a move away from solo living, accor-ding
to some stakeholders. GSA’s Hartshorne says the com-pany
is advocating reducing the number of studios. “I think
the perception of what people want is this fancy big room
with a double bed and their own space,” she says. “They are
starting to realise that actually, they don’t want that. Half
the beauty of living in a property that has been designed
for students is that there is loads of activity,” she continues.
“Studio dwellers don’t necessarily get to be a part of that.”
Wealthy international students tend to choose the most
expensive because they assume it’s the best, Hartshorne
states. But communal living, care and camaraderie can be
the most valuable part of the service you are paying for.
The danger of being scammed
A benefit of being part of a wider housing community
or using a reputable search platform is the reduced risk
of being scammed. This can be a problem in Australia
according to Ricardo Gutierrez, who set up online search
portal BEDSII, which matches students with rooms.
The site offers students literature to help them
identify illegal providers and avoid scams. Forcing clients
to share keys, and more than two people in a room
without a permit is illegal. International students in
Australia aren’t aware of that, says Gutierrez.
He relays stories of students arriving in Sydney
after pre-paying a deposit AUS$4,000-5,000, only to find
the address was a shop. And the CISA conference in
Australia highlighted “hotbedding” as an issue: using a
bedroom on a shift rotation.
“The problem is that students want a great room
in a great location and sometimes it’s not possible,”
Gutierrez says. “They find two or three bedroom
apartments with four or five students per room…
students don’t complain because it’s the only solution
they have to have a bed.”