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How Oxford Guardians supports your child during their education in England
Parents of international students studying in the UK want to know that both the academic and emotional welfare of their child will be top priorities for those taking care of their British education. At Oxford Guardians, our local Education Guardians provide a vital link between students, the school or college, and parents. We also arrange Homestays, giving students without local relatives a welcoming family and home environment when they are not at school. In this blog, we catch up with Jella Bolton-Smith, Homestay & Transport Manager at Oxford Guardians, to find out how she takes care of the wellbeing of international students outside of school hours.
First, what is a homestay?
Homestays offer students a ‘home away from home’ during all, or part of, the academic year. For pupils at day schools this will be a long term stay with a local family who provide a home during the academic year. For pupils at boarding schools, the homestay family will welcome them during closures such as exeat weekends in term time, as well as for half terms and longer holidays if required.
Jella has long experience as a homestay host before working with Oxford Guardians, having welcomed international students into her home since her daughter was young. “I have always loved sharing my home with young people and enjoy helping them make the most of their stay in the UK.”
Having provided homestays for a wide range of foreign students in England, Jella has worked with other education guardians but is convinced that Oxford Guardians provides the best experience for international students and their families. “We only arrange homestays for our guardianship students,” says Jella. “This means we have really strong support systems for both the education and wellbeing of our students, and they, their parents and schools can easily contact us at any time.”
What makes a good homestay home for students?
As Homestay Manager, Jella is responsible for taking on homestay families and checking that they are suitable hosts for international students studying in the UK. There are legal procedures to comply with, including criminal record checks, safer recruitment policies, risk assessments and references, as well as a full home visit. More than this, Jella makes sure only to take on homestays that she believes will truly work in the best interests of the student.
“I only approve homestays to work with Oxford Guardians when I would be happy for my own child to stay – where the host family opens their home with a genuine interest in helping international students enjoy and make the best of their stay in England.”
“I only approve homestays to work with Oxford Guardians when I would be happy for my own child to stay.”
Choosing a homestay for each overseas student
It is important that Oxford Guardians chooses a homestay close to where the student needs to be. Good communication with the student and family allows us to try and provide the best possible location and family. “We try to ensure that each student is placed with a homestay that works well for them, although sometimes this can be challenging!” says Jella. For example, parents might request that a student should not be placed with another student or family who speak the same native language, to ensure they properly adapt to the English culture and language. On other occasions it has been necessary to find a homestay without pets, or a host who can cook vegetarian or even Halal meals.
“I work carefully with our host families to make sure that the student’s experience and their own will meet expectations. We work with school agents and with parents to find the best match of location and lifestyle so that our students will enjoy their homestay experience,” confirms Jella. Students and their parents may also have the opportunity to see the homestay home and family in advance, usually by video call.
Short term homestays
Sometimes students will need a brief homestay in a different location, convenient for other trips: for example, if they are visiting London, staying near friends, or travelling to an airport. On occasions Jella has been asked by the student’s school to take a student into a homestay to recover from an illness, or to provide a home during a period when they are suspended from school.
There may not be an existing homestay arrangement in such circumstances, but Jella nevertheless makes every effort to find somewhere convenient for the student to take time out or enjoy a change, knowing that this is the best way to look after their health and wellbeing.
Checking that students are happy with their homestay
It is important that students are happy with their homestay, particularly if this is a long-term stay or the student is likely to keep returning. So, Jella checks with homestay students, their families and their hosts how the stay is going. This can be done in a variety of ways, including chatting, messaging and using feedback forms. Usually, students are happy to give feedback on their experience, and if they are reticent she will talk to the parents and others involved to make sure she understands any issues that may arise. Fortunately, the vast majority of Oxford Guardians’ homestays are successful, with everyone involved thankful for a great experience.
Transport for homestay students
Most international students studying for an English education will be travelling regularly, whether between homestay and school, to travel back to their overseas home, or to enjoy their holiday time in the UK. Along with organising homestays, Jella is also responsible for arranging their transport. Oxford Guardians works with preferred drivers who meet all our safeguarding criteria. The drivers collect students and ensure they reach their destination in good time. “Sometimes this can be a complex business,” says Jella “particularly when we have siblings in different schools and universities across the country. But I work hard to make sure that both our homestays and our transport help them as much as possible.”
Happy homestay students with Oxford Guardians
Jella clearly loves her job, despite the challenges of multiple lines of communication across different time zones. “My phone is always busy with messages, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“The happiness of Oxford Guardians’ students is the most important thing. It is a great feeling when our overseas students tell me they’ve enjoyed their experience with their homestay family and want to go back. And I personally am still in touch with every student who has ever stayed with me!”
If you would like to find out more about homestays for international students with Oxford Guardians, please contact us on email firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01604 859 331.