Don’t know where to stay? Normal student accommodation too expensive? Then book yourself with a host family!
So… what exactly is a homestay?
Its a great chance to have a “home to home” feeling all around the world. You will be booked into a private family home and the family will take care of you. They are your ‘host’ during your stay. Staying in a home at your destination will allow you to really get to know how locals live their life. Maybe they have children or it may be that the family has a dog, a ferret, a hamster or even other students. Whether you plan a long or a short trip a homestay is an ideal way to get yourself immersed in British culture and way of living. It’s a unique experience you won’t get if you stay at a hotel or student halls.
The host family will cook their usual food, they live their life as they do every other day and you’ll be a part of it.
Usually you have a private room, which gets cleaned by your host once a week and there is a bathroom you can use. Plus your laundry will be done, lucky you! Some homestays are based in central locations but others are located in a more rustic and rural areas. It depends what you prefer, you decide.
From personal experience the hosts make you feel very welcome and make it as enjoyable as possible for you. Nonetheless, you are living with people you haven’t met before and you are speaking in a language that is not your own, so this may be a challenge sometimes but of course you will get into it. My advice? Just keep an open mind to people and new cultures. I’m sure it will be exciting and you won’t regret your decision as your language skills will improve dramatically for making this decision
However, below are four things that we know may be a bit of a shock to some students, so it’s worth getting you aware of certain misconceptions/ issues that may arise if you choose to live with a host-family.
- The British eat terrible Food?
This is a common misconception. It is true that the Brits do like their ready-made meals and pasta bakes as many of them have a hectic lifestyle but they also like their homemade dishes too! Like a good traditional Sunday Roast or a cottage pie! At the end of this blog post, I will include three traditional recipes that you may be lucky enough to try while you stay with a local family and even try making it yourself back home for your own family.
- Early Dinner
It is very common for a British family to serve up dinner as early as 5:30/ 6pm. Some students are quite surprised when this happens because dinner is usually served up much later in most meditarranean countries. This is because the family may have young children who need to be in bed early ready for school the following day, or the adults of the family may also have to be in bed early to start work the next day. This isn’t always the case for the Brits as some do like having their dinner at a slightly later time. But just in case, your host-family are early-diners then be sure to keep some snacks in your room for midnight feasting.
- Here’s your lunch
It may be that your homestay includes lunch! Because the Brits have quite a busy day, they usually only have a very small lunch compared to other European countries. In the UK, people only take an hour break for lunch but in other places in Europe, like Spain, it is common to have around 3 hours for you to go back home, eat your lunch and take a nap. Nope, no time in the working day to that in the UK so an hour is all you get at most – so a small lunch it is. You will be provided with a packed lunch most of the time, which will most probably contain a sandwich, some crisps/ chocolate bar with a piece of fruit. Totally different to what most students are accustomed to in their home countries.
- Brrrr … it’s cold!
Yes, it can get pretty cold in the UK over the winter months, so make sure you are fully equipped for the outside weather. However, what you may not be expecting how cold some family homes can get in the evenings/ mornings. Getting out of bed in the mornings in the winter is difficult for everyone during the winter months. Some host-families will have their heating on a timer to come on at specific times throughout the day but others may try to just put the heating on for a couple of hours per day and brace the cold just to save some money at the end of the month. This makes students who are accustomed to warmer climates feel like they are freezing to death, so it might be an idea to invest in some cosy, thick socks and some thick woollen jumpers during your time in the UK. Another good way to cope with the cold is to buy some hand-warmers and have a trusty hot water bottle warm up your bed before you get into it! If this isn’t enough, do not be afraid to have a chat to your Host-family to see if they can make some changes for you like putting the heaters on at particular times.
Their may be other stuff that you may consider unusual but this shouldn’t stop you from considering staying with a host-family. Usually a host-family will take a lot of pressure off students, things like worrying about doing your laundry and doing the weekly/monthly food shopping. These are things you won’t have to worry about and you will feel like you are part of a family, which is a great start for those students who are worried about going solo in an unfamiliar country. And as promised below you will find the recipes to some of the tasty food you may come across during your time in the UK, especially if you’re with a local family:
A Toad in the hole!
It is a delicious dish that is made out of Yorkshire pudding and sausages. Mmm… very tasty! If you don’t get the chance to eat this dish while you are staying with your host family you can cook it by yourself at home to spoil your family in your country when you get back. They will be amazed!
8 large sausages
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 large red onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 knobs of butter
6 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 level tbsp. vegetable stock powder or 1 vegetable stock cube.
For the batter
115g plain flour
Pinch of salt
- Mix the batter ingredients together and put to one side.
- Take an appropriately-sized baking tin (the thinner the better) and put 1 cm/just under ½ inch of sunflower oil into it. Place this on the middle shelf of your oven at its highest setting (240º–250ºC/475ºF/gas 9), and put a larger tray underneath it to catch any oil that overflows while cooking.
- When the oil is very hot, add your sausages. Keep your eye on them and allow them to colour until lightly golden.
- At this point, carefully take the tin out of the oven and pour your Toad in the Whole batter mix over the sausages. Throw a couple of sprigs of rosemary into the batter. Put the tin back in the oven, and don’t open it for at least 20 minutes – Yorkshire puddings can be a bit temperamental when rising, so only remove from the oven once it’s golden and crisp.
- For the onion gravy, fry your onions and garlic in the butter on medium heat for about five minutes until they go sweet and translucent. Throw in a little thyme or rosemary if you like. Add the balsamic vinegar and allow it to cook down by half. Add a stock cube or powder and a little water, and let it simmer.
- Once the gravy is cooked, serve at the table with your Toad in the Hole, mashed potatoes, greens and baked beans (or maybe a green salad if you’re feeling a little guilty)
Another excellent English dish is the Shepherd’s Pie, which is made out of minced lamb and mashed potato. A try of this is a must!
500 g lean minced lamb
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 x 400 g tin of cannellini beans
2 sticks of celery
250 g chestnut mushrooms
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
800 ml organic chicken or veg stock
800 g swede
800 g potatoes
2 tablespoons semi-skimmed milk
15 g mature Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon mint sauce
350 g frozen peas
- Put the mince into a cold casserole pan. Place on a high heat, add a really good pinch of black pepper and cook for 15 minutes, or until dark golden, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.
- Pick and finely chop the rosemary leaves, drain the beans, then stir both into the pan. Cook and stir for 8 minutes, or until the beans start to pop and it’s all getting dark and gnarly.
- Peel the onions and carrots, trim the celery, wipe the mushrooms clean, then finely chop it all (or blitz in a food processor). Stir into the pan and sweat for 10 minutes on medium-high, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the flour, followed by the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer on a low heat with the lid on for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4.
- Wash the swede and potatoes (leaving the skins on for extra nutritional benefit) and cut into 3cm chunks.
- Cook just the swede in a large pan of boiling salted water for 10 minutes, add the potatoes for 10 more minutes, or until cooked through, drain well, mash with the milk and grated cheese, and season to perfection.
- Check the consistency of the mince – you want it slightly wetter than you think, as it will thicken further in the oven. Add the Worcestershire and mint sauces, taste, and season to perfection.
- Sprinkle the peas over the mince, letting them sit on the surface to help prevent the mash from sinking in too much. Put spoons of mash randomly on top, using a fork to scuff it up and make valleys and mountains, increasing the surface area, and the crispy bits.
- Bake for 50 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Nice with seasonal greens.
Something sweet shouldn’t be left out so I’m happy to introduce the one and only tasty and lovely: Scone! My favourite!! 🙂
350g self-raising flour, plus more for dusting
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
85g butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp. caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
squeeze lemon juice (see Know-how below)
beaten egg, to glaze
jam and clotted cream, to serve
- Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Tip the flour into a large bowl with the salt and baking powder, then mix. Add the butter, then rub in with your fingers until the mix looks like fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar.
- Put the milk into a jug and heat in the microwave for about 30 secs until warm, but not hot. Add the vanilla and lemon juice, then set aside for a moment. Put a baking sheet in the oven.
- Make a well in the dry mix, then add the liquid and combine it quickly with a cutlery knife – it will seem pretty wet at first. Scatter some flour onto the work surface and tip the dough out. Dredge the dough and your hands with a little more flour, then fold the dough over 2-3 times until it’s a little smoother. Pat into a round tin about 4cm deep.
- Take a 5cm cutter (smooth-edged cutters tend to cut more cleanly, giving a better rise) and dip it into some flour. Plunge into the dough, then repeat until you have four scones. You may need to press what’s left of the dough back into a round to cut out another four.
- Brushthe tops with beaten egg, then carefully place onto the hot baking tray.
Bake for 10 mins until risen and golden on the top. Eat just warm or cold on the day of baking, generously topped with jam and clotted cream. If freezing, freeze once cool. Defrost, then put in a low oven (about 160C/fan140C/gas 3) for a few mins to refresh.