Karen Luther of St. Mary's University in Halifax is such a strong believer in screening potential hosts by phone that she does not even have them complete an application form prior to the call.
"Looking at a paper or online application doesn't give me the same kind of feeling that I can get over the phone," says Luther, the accommodations coordinator with the Language Centre at St. Mary's.
A 15-minute phone conversation can save homestay coordinators from having to conduct a two-hour home visit (plus travel time) to a host that may not be suitable for the program.
There are many issues that can be addressed on a short call:
- Whether the home is on a bus route with a reasonable commute to the school
- The potential host's English proficiency
- The reason they want to host a student
- If the host will be at home most evenings and on weekends to make dinner and socialize with the student
In addition, the call gives Luther a stronger sense of personal security rather than going directly to visit the home of someone she has never spoken with.
At Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington, Lynnette Berry does require potential hosts to complete an application form first. Then she conducts a 10-30 minute phone conversation to provide information about the program and answer any questions prospective hosts may have.
"Often, people will drop out when they realize that they have to provide three meals a day out of the homestay fee," Berry says.
"Each call that I have is a little bit different," Berry notes. She tries to get a sense of why they want to host, whether they have hosted before and their experiences overseas (if any).
One-hour info session
After the call, Berry invites them to a one-hour group info session where she provides details about the program and host responsibilities. Again, some will fall off by simply not showing up for the info session.
"Once they have completed the info session, they have demonstrated their commitment to the program and it's pretty much a done deal," Berry notes. "The home visit is just to confirm that their house is suitable and that they will be good hosts."
At St. Mary's, Luther also focuses on the types of questions that potential hosts ask. "Do they ask student focused or cultural questions or do they only ask questions concerning the monetary aspects of hosting?"
One prospective host responded to the question, "What do you hope to gain from hosting?" with the answer: "$700 for my downstairs bedroom."
"If they ask a lot of questions about the program, it's a sign that they are quite keen," Luther says.
Both Berry and Luther feel that the time spent on a call - whether it lasts 15 minutes or 40 - is a great investment in screening hosts and to determine whether they are hosting for the right reasons.