Every summer Team Grant give their spare room a good clear out and tidy up, and get ready to welcome a new exchange student for a few weeks. People from all countries, with different stories and a multitude of accents come and live with us, their host family, as they grapple with the complexities that make up the English language.
This was initially an alien concept to my husband, but a familiar one for me. My parents divorced when I was young, but I remember both my mum and my dad taking exchange students into their homes throughout the year. I vividly remember sitting around our large kitchen table, which sat at least four students comprising of three nationalities, thinking to myself “this is bonkers”. I would watch my mum dish out bowl after bowl of pasta to these hungry mouths, listening to them share their experiences of our city and our language. One time I remember being shipped along the road to my grandparents because my mum had overbooked herself and my bed was in need!
At the time, it was a means to an end for my parents. Looking back at the experience now, it was a profoundly eye-opening one for me. I was exposed to other cultures, languages and people in a real, meaningful way, not as part of a forty minute lesson in a classroom. I was also incredibly aware of our own position within the world, I understood from very young that our way was not the only way, that our way was one of many. A valuable lesson.
This is something I am very keen to instill in my children. Born in an English-speaking, westernised country, my children are probably more at risk of forgetting about the importance of other cultures than those of other lands. When they go on holiday, everyone speaks their language. The world accommodates them automatically. It should not be so.
My children have had exchange students of Spanish, Italian, Swedish and German origin stay in their home so far. It’s not perfect, but with a limited budget it’s one of the best ways I can expose them to the realities of a bigger, wider world than they might otherwise have known.
Our students stay on a half board basis – we provide a continental breakfast, and a two course evening meal for them. For this, we receive approximately £130 a week. It costs us less than £30 a week for the additional food costs and electricity demands. This gives us a profit of £100 a week which comes in very handy for us, and usually goes some way towards paying for our next year’s holiday.
Yes, there are some minor inconveniences. I can no longer wander around my house in my pants, for example. There are evenings where I’d kill for a takeaway, or just a simple tea of pesto pasta, but I am obliged to make something a bit more hearty and balanced. But the overwhelming benefits these exchange students brings to our family home (and the extra hundred quid a week – not to be sniffed at!) far exceeds these little niggles.
If you have a spare room, consider this option. It needn’t be for long, only a few weeks a year if you like. Try it on for size. You may just find you love it.