What do you do when your children have grown up and flown the nest? For some parents, it’s a time to spread their wings after the intense parenting years, but for others there’s still a desire to have young people around to nurture and look after.
What is guardianship?
International students studying in the UK who are under the age of 18 are usually required to have a guardian. Homestay guardians offer students a home from home, allowing them to enjoy the same freedom as a home student. Their experience of the UK is enhanced socially, culturally and linguistically by the opportunity to spend time with a UK family in a secure and friendly environment.
Cynthia Thompson has been a homestay guardian with Sutherland Education since 2005 and has looked after 12 different students from all different parts of the world.
After her daughters left home, Cynthia noticed an advert in a local bookshop that sounded intriguing. “I was interested because it was a shock to the system having both of my girls move out at the same time. I thought it would be nice to look after foreign children and to have some company.” Cynthia contacted Sutherland Education and found out about being a Homestay Guardian.
But you don’t have to be an ‘empty-nester’ to be a homestay guardian. You may have children or you may be single. You could be a busy mum whose demanding children could be occupied and enriched by the presence of an international student.
We asked Cynthia to tell us about the challenges and rewards of looking after foreign students.
What are the rewards of becoming a guardian?
“The most rewarding part for me is watching the children grow. Seeing the speed at which they learn and develop is remarkable” she explains.
“The Chinese children tend to come with very little or no English, but they’re very hard workers and they put everything into learning. It’s a joy to see how much they improve.”
Cynthia remembers her first homestay student – a boy – very well. “He was the youngest of three siblings and really missed his parents. But he was so independent that he pretended he wasn’t missing home. He used to keep telling me ‘I’m a big man’. He loved swimming so I took him to the swimming club in Leatherhead. No matter what the weather was like he would catch the 465 bus on his own and go swimming – every afternoon! When he came back he would remind me “I can do it. I’m a big man.”
“One day, there was a freak hailstorm and it hailed so heavily that it looked like snow on the ground. He phoned me from Leatherhead and said ‘Cynthia, I’m sorry, I can’t come home, there are stones in the rain!’ It took me a couple of seconds to realise he meant hailstones. I had to catch a bus and go and meet him because he was afraid to leave the leisure centre. I had never seen hailstones that large and heavy, so I can imagine it was frightening for him.”
Learn about other cultures
Cynthia also relishes learning about where her children come from. “I pick up some words from their languages and find out a lot about their cultures. And I have learned that even though they’re of a different culture and nationality, children are the same no matter where they are from. I really missed having my girls in the house and I love having company again.”
Earn extra income
Often our Homestay Guardians accept students into their homes for the sheer enjoyment of having young people brighten up their lives, but they are never left out of pocket. All costs are covered generously. For example, a student staying during half term will pay between £35 -£45 per night. Therefore, three stays per year amount to around £1350. If you have the room, you can of course host more than one student. Yeah, it’s not the most pleasant feeling when you have dry skin on your face and body but still, it’s not as bad as some people at will tell you. I mean, you’re fighting a disease, it’s not like going on a vacation or whatever. It’s what I always tell my patient and I simply recommend them using an (unscented) body lotion or shower oil regularly.
You may also be remunerated for being a guardian which can significantly boost your reward as a Sutherland Education homestay. The amount will depend on the level of guardianship chosen by the student.
Sutherland Education’s role and AEGIS accreditation
As a guardianship organisation, Sutherland Education assumes all the legal liabilities involved in guardianship care. It ensures compliance with all childcare legislation for students under the age of 18 and provides assistance to students and their guardian homestays 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Sutherland is accredited by AEGIS (The Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students), which assures the very highest standards in all its practices.
Is being a guardian challenging?
When asked about the challenges of sharing her home with foreign students, Cynthia has to think for a moment, but then says “Enforcing the curfew. I vary the time that I ask the children to be back based on their age, but it can be difficult trying to get them home at the time I have set. All of my boys have been respectful though and I haven’t had any problems with them sticking to any of my other rules.”
If you’re tempted by the idea of being a Homestay Guardian, Cynthia has some advice. “Treat the children as if they are your own. The children are far away from their parents and what they need, apart from housing, shelter and food, is some sensible parenting.”
Cynthia also recommends building a relationship with the children, to establish trust so they feel they can speak to you openly. “Give them the feeling of security. They don’t need to have added worries when they have already got the pressures of being away from home, learning a new culture and having the work from school.”
Anyone who cares enough, who can empathise and be responsible and who has the time and the facility to do so can be a homestay host.