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Lucky Phill

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Homestay programmes a winner for Australia and Thailand
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Opening its homes to foreign students has made Australia an attractive educational destination, writes SUZIEANA UDA NAGU

‘The experience has made me more mature,’ says Korbua Laorujijinda

‘The experience has made me more mature,’ says Korbua Laorujijinda

AFTER a long day at university, Korbua Laorujijinda was ready to go home. She walked to the bus stop and took a 15-minute bus ride home where she would catch up on her “family” members’ news over dinner.

“Discussions during dinner were always fun. I could share my problems or new experiences with them,” she says.  This was Korbua’s daily routine throughout her Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication programme between February 2006 and July 2007 at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia
. The youngest of four girls now works as a Business Development and Research officer at the Australian Education International office in her hometown Bangkok, Thailand.  Although she missed her family while in Queensland, she never felt lonely with her host family — a couple with their two young sons and dog — around. “They were such lovely people. They had hosted a Thai student before, so they knew how to make me feel part of the family.”  Korbua had dinner with her host family “most nights” and would sometimes go to the beach or a stage performance with them on weekends. Korbua was happy with her living arrangements — so much so that she abandoned her initial plan to move out and stay with friends after her first month in Queensland. She believes that living with a host family had made her stay in Australia more memorable.

“I would recommend homestay programme to those who are keen to learn (a different) culture and improve on your communication skills and ability to adapt to new surroundings.”

Some 77.2 per cent of 138 foreign students who attended secondary schools in the state of Victoria who had stayed with host families also would recommend it to their friends, reveal the findings of a 2003-survey.


‘Discussions over dinner with my host family were always fun,’ says Korbua Laorujijinda (second from right) pictured with her foster siblings Lewis (left) and Owen Edwards

‘Discussions over dinner with my host family were always fun,’ says Korbua Laorujijinda (second from right) pictured with her foster siblings Lewis (left) and Owen Edwards

The study, which aimed to find out international students’ preferred living arrangement while studying in Australia, found that about 44.4 per cent of respondents picked homestay. Next to staying with a host family, students preferred to reside in boarding houses (19.5 per cent); live with a parent (16.9 per cent); stay with relatives (10.9 per cent) and share rental arrangements with friends (8.3 per cent).

Students who stay with host families find it easier to improve on their English language abilities. They also feel a sense of security living in a family-type situation where their needs can be met. The demand for homestay accommodations in the country began in the mid-1990s where the number of fee-paying international students grew exponentially from 2,000 in 1986 to 70,000 in 1994.
In 2000, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that some 153,400 foreign students were studying in Australia, which had generated some A$3.7 billion (RM10.36 billion) for the economy.

As the call for quality and safe accommodation rose in tandem with the demand for places in Australian educational institutions, Aussie families of diverse backgrounds started opening their homes to international students for a fee of AU$185 or more a week.
 
In Australia, the law stipulates that homestay providers Ñ either those managed by educational institutions or an independent homestay agency servicing several colleges and universities Ñ have an obligation to provide quality care for international students who are below 18 years.  However, most universities or homestay agents are able to arrange homestay living arrangements for learners of all ages.

To ensure the safety of international students in Australian homes, the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs requires all homestay hosts to go through police clearance before they can offer their spare rooms to students. “We conduct visits to the homes to ensure that the families meet our standards. We try to find homes that are close to the university campus for students,” says University of Tasmania (UTas) International Office director Paul Rigby.

To date, UTas has about 300 families registered with its homestay programme, which caters only for students from its English Language Centre. “But some stay on with their family after they have completed their English studies,” says UTas international marketing manager Nick Shaw.  Even with police clearance and site visits, staying with foster families can still be a daunting experience for foreign students leaving their homes for the first time.

Most agencies provide international students with detailed information about their host families Ñ which include names of family members, ages, occupations, pets and contact details Ñ even before they leave their home countries to allay any fears. “My host family sent me a Microsoft PowerPoint file showing photos of its members, the house and general rules as an introduction before I arrived,” recalls Korbua, who was concerned for her safety.

“After I saw their introduction slides, I felt relieved as the house looked safe and the family seemed kind.” While all host families receive payment for their services, in many cases, “their motivation is to have their children be close to a different culture”.  International students also benefit from the cultural exchange. Korbua learned to adapt to Australian culture and appreciate and respect the differences.

“I considered my homestay as my own home where I need to be responsible for my own things and also offer help to my family where appropriate. I think these skills are highly important in the workplace,” she says.  Her command of the English language improved significantly while living with her host family. “They would help me correct my pronunciation. If I had stayed with Thai friends, I would have spoken Thai all the time. “Generally, the experience has made me a more mature person,” she says.

The future of homestay programmes in Australia seems bright. If Australia reaches its projected international student population of half a million by 2025, homestay programmes have the potential to flourish into a major industry. In light of recent attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, which are believed to be racially-motivated, many see it as a powerful social tool to promote understanding and acceptance of different cultures between the host family and international student.



-- Edited by Lucky on Sunday 30th of August 2009 09:55:53 PM

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