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 host mom in Madagascar

As a student or volunteer abroad, you'll likely have the option to live with a host family. At first, it seems like the obvious choice: it's affordable, gives you an instant support system in country, and can help you learn the local language and culture.

Before you decide if it's right for you, let Go Overseas help you understand what it's like living with a host family abroad

But then, you think about it a little more. You haven't lived with your own family for years. You like your independence and being able to dance to Katy Perry songs like a mad person whenever you want. These are complete strangers. You're shy and awkward and the idea of having dinner every night in a foreign language gives you a mild anxiety attack.

We understand -- living with a host family is different. So before you decide if it's right for you, let Go Overseas help you understand what it's like living with a host family abroad. Who knows? Maybe you'll have a host sibling who's just as in to spontaneous Katy Perry dance parties as you are...

What You Should Expect Living with a Host Family

Every home stay experience is just as different as the families who host. Regardless of if you're living with a family with three young toddlers in Senegal, or a single mom and her daughter in Spain, there are a few things you can expect from just about every home stay experience. While living with a host family, you should expect...

1. Your family may or may not have hosted other volunteers / students before

There's always a good chance that your host family has had experience hosting before. If this is your case, your host family should be well aware of what you'll need help with, what you're capable of accomplishing on your own, and sensitive of one another's cultural differences.

At the same time, there's always a chance you're the first -- that's OK too. Just try to be understanding and patient. Both you and your family are learning a lot from living with each other!

2. Your family should have been thoroughly evaluated and interviewed

Your program provider should have interviewed and evaluated your family thoroughly to make sure they meet their standards and can provide a safe and comfortable living environment for you. To make sure you end up in the right family for you, make sure you ask your provider the following questions:

  • How long has the family been hosting volunteers/students?
  • What meals are they promised to provide?
  • Will I be sharing my room with another person?
  • Am I expected to provide my own food on the weekends?
  • How old are the children, if any?
  • How far away is the home from school/volunteer site/internet access/restaurants?
  • Will the family adapt to any dietary restrictions I have?
  • What is transportation like around the community?

3. To eat the same food that the rest of the family is eating

host brothers, Malagasy children

If you have any special dietary restrictions, let your program provider know well before they assign you to a host family.

This way, they can ask your host family "are you OK hosting a vegetarian / a person with a nut allergy / etc.?" and make sure you're placed with someone willing and capable of accommodating you.

Even so, you may have to be flexible and patient (not every culture "gets" vegetarianism -- for example, in Senegal "vegetarian" means you still eat fish).

If you have no restrictions, expect to eat what your host family is eating. It's just plain rude not to! (Hint: In cultures where they tend to feed guests a lot, there's usually a polite secret phrase to say "great food, but I'm full". LEARN IT.)

4. To be respectful of their house rules

Does your family wait up for you to get home before locking up? Do they feel uncomfortable with you bringing a friend home? Do they expect you to do the dishes or keep the bathroom a certain way? Ask about these rules and be respectful of them -- it's the least you can do to say thanks!

5. To learn the language much faster

Your host family is a great resource for practicing the local language and creating a total immersion environment. Families with small children are especially helpful, since they're already used to coaching their little 4-year-olds through tough pronunciations and explaining simple concepts.

6. To feel uncomfortable in certain situations

Living with a host family means getting very familiar with each other and spending time in each other's personal space. Add different cultural norms and perspectives on what personal space is (in some places, it's not a concept at all), and you're sure to have an awkward moment or two.

Despite all the awkward moments and cultural differences, expect to fall in love with your host family.

Little host brother barges in your room while you're getting dressed? Your host mother hand washes your underwear? Your host sister bluntly asks you about every-single-detail about your love life? These things happen!

7. Your family will include you on family events and holiday celebrations

You're part of the family, after all! If you're living with your host family during important holidays or celebrations, like weddings, birthdays, or funerals, expect to get an invitation.

8. To get a second family that will be hard to leave

Despite all the awkward moments and cultural differences, expect to fall in love with your host family. Expect that when it comes time to leave, both of you will be adamantly making promises to stay in touch and see each other soon. They're your second family now! How lucky are you?

What You Should NOT Expect When Living with a Host Family

And of course, there are a few things that you absolutely shouldn't expect from your host family.

  • To be coddled
  • To have the same amount of independence as you did at home
  • To have a live-in maid
  • For your family to use English for your sake
  • To treat your house like a hotel
  • To come and go as you please without being respectful of your host parents
  • To have your friends come and stay with you

Stories From Living With Host Families Abroad

As we mentioned before, no two experiences living with a host family are alike -- and what better way to learn about personal experiences than hearing stories from a few individuals who have had this experience?

Natalie: studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain

Chinese kid and student

For Natalie, a college student who studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain for a semester, having a host family helped her “get to know the area better through a local perspective, feel comfortable in a foreign place, gain a better cultural understanding, and practice speaking the language on a regular basis.”

Having a stand-in family while far away from her own was a huge perk for Natalie, especially when she got sick and needed extra help.

The only drawback was a slight lack in independence, like having curfews and feeling obligated to eat massive amounts of food at meal times, but she says the benefits far outweighed this one factor.

The best thing about living with a host family according to Natalie is that her relationships “developed into those similar to a real family."

She anxiously looks forward to the time when she can return to Sevilla and visit them.

Alex: studied high school abroad in Russia

Alex, a high school exchange student in Moscow, had a brief but pleasant experience with his host family. He “mostly communicated through the host brother, as the parents did not speak any English,” but they were still welcoming and generous.

The apartment had only two bedrooms, but they made sure Alex had his own room. Alex “had studied Russian for two years, but was still not very good, which made it tough to communicate. If I had been there longer than a month, or was taking courses while there, I might have learned more.”

Staying with a host family is not for everyone, but it's an affordable and unique accommodation anyone going overseas should think about it.

Another downside, which was mostly due to his age, was he felt “trapped in the house, obligated to do whatever the family was doing.” Overall though, he’s still happy he participated in the exchange program and had the chance to experience life first hand in Russia by living with his host family.

Mandi: language program in Costa Rica

House in Costa Rica

I lived with a host mom and two sisters in San Jose, Costa Rica while taking a month long language course at the University of Costa Rica. For me, I wanted to live with a host family as a way to get extra Spanish practice outside of class.

Once there, however, I found it tough to force myself to interact with my new family -- my Spanish skills were still pretty low, and I'm a shy person.

Since my stay was only one month long, I didn’t have time to break out of my shell enough to feel fully comfortable and improve my Spanish skills.

Even so, I loved living with my host family. I got delicious, authentic breakfast and dinner every day. I had my own room in a quiet neighborhood, with another American girl in the house, and a few more down the street.

Despite the language barrier, my host mom went out of her way to make sure I was comfortable. My only regret was that I didn’t get to stay longer and build my relationship with her!

Dennis: volunteered in India

Dennis, a German man who volunteered in India for a year, had an unusual, and less than ideal, host family experience. He was one of five volunteers all living with a family of four. The family had only expected two volunteers.

“I remember my stay in the host family was very chaotic,” Dennis said. “Before arriving in India I thought I would be the only volunteer living in a family who are experienced and excited to meet me. I imagined living in a happy family who is patient, would help me to adjust to my new environment and would try to help me integrate. I thought after maybe two months I would be considered a family member.”

Having a host family helped Natalie "get to know the area better through a local perspective, feel comfortable in a foreign place, and practice speaking the language on a regular basis."

But, this wasn't the case. The family was overwhelmed and unhappy with the situation. Finally, after an argument between another volunteer and the host father, all volunteers were asked to leave.

However, Dennis does not look back on the experience as negative. “If I think back, there are many things I could have and should have done differently. But at the time, I was only 19 and just tried my best to make it work,” Dennis says.

If you end up having a less than perfect experience with your host family, here are sometips for dealing with a bad host family.

  • Be patient in the beginning when you're getting to know your family and the culture.
  • Even if you feel your family doesn’t respect you, follow their rules and continue to treat them with kindness.
  • Consider things you can change to make it a more positive experience.
  • Talk with your program directors about the problem in the beginning so they can work with your family to make a change.
  • If you do decide to leave, don’t point fingers and accuse, simply say “This isn’t working out.”
  • If you're placed with a new family, don’t talk bad about your old host family -- this only breeds negative feelings.

Still Not Sure About Living With a Host Family?

To figure out if a home stay is right for you, take your time to weigh the pros and consand make an educated decision. Ask yourself the right questions. Consider your goals, and decide whether living with a host family would help you meet them.

Questions to ask yourself before deciding to live with a host family:
  • How important is my privacy?
  • Will I be flexible enough to adjust to another family’s rules and quirks?
  • How much do I like living in a family environment? Would I prefer living with someone my own age?
  • Do I have the ability to be culturally sensitive at all times?
  • Is it important to me to not only learn the customs of my host family, but be involved with them?
  • How serious am I about learning the language?
  • Am I OK with sharing a room with someone I don’t know?

Challenge Yourself: Just Do It!

Staying with a host family is not for everyone, but it's an affordable and unique accommodation anyone going overseas should think about it. Overall, living with a host family will guarantee you a richer cultural experience, comfort, security, and perhaps even a second family in your new host country.

Really, whatever your hesitations may be, we strongly encourage you to challenge yourself and try it -- shy kid or not!

Get the other side of the story with what does your host family think about hosting?

What Does Your Host Family Think About Hosting?

From cultural immersion to saving money to the irreplaceable feeling of having a home away from home, many study abroad students find that homestays are their best choice for accommodations abroad.

On homestays, instead of living in student apartments or dormitories, visiting students reside with families in their host country. Homestays can last anywhere from a few days to a full year term. Students can stay with host families individually or as a group.

We know this accommodation option is popular for many study abroad students, but what does your host family actually think about hosting students? To answer this question I chatted with Mairéad Corr, a mom of four who has hosted exchange students and interns from places such as Japan, Italy, Germany, and Russia. Mairéad and her husband list a single bedroom in their four bedroom home in Ranalagh, 

A Host Family’s Perspective on Homestays

What does your host family think about hosting?

“I can’t tell you how much we like it,” Mairéad said. “It’s become part of our life. It’s become part of what we need to have a cultural life.

Mairéad and her husband initially decided to start listing their spare bedroom on to be able to afford renovation work in their attic.

“There are six of us on one income,” she said. “We needed to save money for the attic and we didn’t want to take out a loan. Now we have enough money to do the attic but we’re still going to do this for the foreseeable future because it’s become part of our life.”

Mairéad said the greater financial freedom hosting students has provided her family has made a big difference in their lives.

“To have the comfort of having some savings in the bank rather than being fearful of what the future might bring – I think we’re going to stick with house share,” she said.

Mairéad added that the family doesn’t take the duties of hosting students lightly – for her it is serious work.

“We take it quite seriously,” she said. “This is part of our income, part of our salary, so we take it as seriously as we would a job, because it really is.”

While outsiders may view hosting students as an inconvenience, Mairéad and her family don’t feel this way at all.

“It’s not really an inconvenience at all once you open your brain to it,” she said. “I have friends that look at me as if ‘why would you do that? That’s your private space, your home.’ But I don’t honestly feel that we are losing out on privacy. When you have children, people are coming in and out of the door every ten minutes, so it’s not like you have a lot of privacy anyway.”

The Benefits of Homestays for Host Families

Mairéad said the benefits of hosting are not restricted to just the study abroad students who call her house their own for several months -- she has also noticed many benefits for her family.

“All in all the experience for us as parents has been fantastic for our kids, because our children go to an all Irish primary school,” she added. “That means that they speak Irish and nothing else. And that’s fine in terms of [preserving our culture]– we get to keep our language strong, but in terms of diversity we don’t get any. So here, it’s been amazing for us.”

The family recently held a birthday party for one of the children. The family sang “Happy Birthday” in Irish, their two host students sang in German and Russian, and in the end they all sang in English.

“For a small ordinary family in Dublin I thought that was mind blowing,” she said.

Mairéad noted that her children have picked up other skills from the visiting students such as new phrases in other languages, origami, and intercultural communication.

“It teaches them that you speak to the person that’s in your house or that you get to know in the way that they do,” she said. “Not everything has to come to your level. Be aware of what’s happening and adapt.

A unexpected benefit for her family? Mairéad’s children have been more eager to help with chores such as washing the floor and making their beds as they have seen older, “cooler” international students do the same.

“It’s funny all the nuances I never thought would happen through house sharing,” she says.

The Challenge of Adapting to Host Students

A homestay student

Mairéad acknowledged that hosting students does not go without its challenges.

“Having someone living in your house full time who isn’t a member of the family takes a little bit of getting used to,” she said. “It’s like having a visitor that stays for a long time.”

“If you have somebody living in your house for five months and it’s not going well, then it’s going to be bad for everybody. If you make a bit of an effort at the start and you get a bit of a jokey relationship going on with the person then that is so much better than a grunt good morning and a grunt good night -- nobody wants that.”

However, Mairéad has found that building open and friendly relationships is the key to successful homestay experiences, both for the hosts and the students.

“This is something that we’ve grown better at as the year’s gone on and we take it really seriously. I invest in the people who come in the door because I know if I get a good bond going with my students here then the time spent here will be positive for everybody.”

The Benefits of Hosting for Students

Mairéad, admitting her bias, said staying in a homestay versus a student dorm is “100 percent better.”

“If you live in student accommodation you are living in Dublin physically, but you’ll be living in an ex-pat location where everybody is not Irish. You won’t get the same level of authenticity,” she added.

“When you’re in student accommodation, everyone’s in the same boat, so there’s nobody that can tell you authentically what is good, bad, or indifferent.

When you go to a house you have people who have lived in the place for 10, 15 years and, they might not know the best pubs to go to, but they’ll show you the places that are safe and they will probably show you a wider perspective rather than just the drinking culture. For a more balanced view on what it’s like to be Irish and what it’s like to live in Ireland. You won’t get that in student accommodation.”

“House sharing gives you the security of home,” she says. “You are safe when you go in that door and you always have that feeling of home.”

Hosting as a Tool to Overcoming Language Barriers

Overcoming language barriers

Homestays can also be an effective tool in helping foreign students who speak a different native language learn the local lingo. Mairéad recalled her experiences hosting an intern from Italy.

“We absolutely adored her because even though her English was quite poor, there wasn’t such a massive cultural difference. We embraced a lot of her culture.”

To help this student have a more successful experience in Ireland, Mairéad would sit with her every night and go through language role play situations, practicing English phrases to say in situations like going to the bank or ordering coffee.

“When you’re in a brand new city and you don’t know a single other person it’s very hard to walk into a bar and say “Hi. Can you talk to me,” Mairéad said.

“We learned a lot from watching a person figure this out and helping her in every way we could. Once she had the basics of those she was able to go out.”

Mairéad also remarked how easily her own children were able to communicate with the student despite the language difference.

“While we were struggling to communicate with her she was still able to get across to the kids,” she said. “I was trying hard to understand her words, but with children they don’t need words so much. They can do other ways of communicating.”

Surprises for Hosting Families

Mairéad said hosting students has been full of many surprising experiences. One of her current students is a 25 year old male.

“I was slow about taking a guy on his own because I wasn’t so sure how a 25 year old boy would fit in with a family with kids as young as ours,” she said.

“He honestly has been the best fit,” she admitted. “I said to him ‘did you ever have a moment of doubt where you thought maybe it would have just been easy to find student accommodation and live there’ and he said nope. Not one. That would have been boring compared to here.”

The Downsides of Hosting

Mairéad said there is one major downside to staying at a homestay – that there aren’t as many “instant friends” available.

“The downside of a house share would be that there wouldn’t be an instant group of friends on the door step, but if you are coming here to study, the university isn’t far,” she added.

For students at homes as centrally located as Mairéad’s house in Dublin, finding new friends takes only a little more effort than it would if you are staying at a dorm surrounded by other students. Mairéad said this should in no way prohibit students from meeting other students and locals alike.

“This kind of set up for me would be the best of both worlds,” she said. “You get the friends at school and the safety and authenticity of home right here.”

Tips for Having a Successful Homestay Experience

Tips for staying with a host family

After hosting so many students, Mairéad has learned a thing or two about how students can have the most successful experience abroad. Meaningful experiences start first and foremost she said, by leaving the house.

“I know that sounds daft, but people who stay in their room all the time – that doesn’t work,” she said. “We are so close to town, people who just won’t go out of the house and just stay here and watch tv it makes everyone unhappy. Everybody needs a little breathing room from each other. We even find that with ourselves – we have to leave the house sometimes just to be able to have some breathing space and peace. So it’s the same with the students.”

Mairéad says students who make the most effort to get involved in the local community seem the happiest.

“Guys and girls who have joined the football club or some groups, or even if they just go out one or two nights of the week, it gives everybody mental space in the house.

We’ve had people staying with us that stay in the house for nine or ten days in a row and that makes everyone frustrated. It makes the person who's staying here, it makes me frustrated, because I work at home and it feels as if we’re always breathing the same air.”

Mairéad also noted that it is important for students to explore the sights of Dublin and the surrounding area to truly soak up Irish culture.

“I give a list of the places to see that are really interesting, they’re generally free, just to show that there is a world outside to be seen,” she said.

“While you’re here, if you’ve made such an effort to come from a different country all the way to Dublin, make the absolute most of it. Put it in your head that from the time you get here you are going to do everything you can to soak up all of Dublin. That’s what I think makes a successful trip.”

Mairéad added that it’s important to remember that your room in your homestay is just your base and not your reason to be abroad.

“The room is your safe place, but don’t make that be the reason why you stay in,” she said.

“For me that would be the ultimate tragedy -- to come from wherever and then to return [without exploring]. In ten years time you want to think about what you saw and what you did and [be able to say more than] ‘well I went to the store and then I came back to my room,’” she added.

Alright Mairéad, you have us convinced -- homestays are a safe, fun, and authentic way to experience study abroad!

Hosts sign up today and show your room for FREE
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Student accommodation and hosting, 

Homeowners with ‘empty nests’ urged to give students a dig out

Student unions promoting ‘digs’ before hunt for college accommodation in September

Under the “digs” system a student rents a room in a family home, usually from Monday to Friday, and returns home for the weekend. Photograph: Getty Images

Jack Power

Mon, Jul 17, 2017, 08:00

As the search for accommodation for the college term gets under way, students’ unions are encouraging people to consider offering “digs” as an alternatives to renting houses or apartments.

Under the “digs” system a student rents a room in a family home, usually from Monday to Friday, and returns home for the weekend.

The arrangement is not an official landlord-tenant agreement, and homeowners do not have to pay tax on the rent unless it is more than €12,000 a year.

University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin students’ unions are promoting the scheme as a way for homeowners with spare rooms to make money, and to reduce pressure on students in a difficult rental market.

Katie Ascough, head of the UCD students’ union, said there were more than 120,000 “empty nesters” and people with spare rooms in their home. “That’s a lot of vacant beds in an overcrowded housing market.”

One property owner, Carol Frey, has let a room in her south Dublin home for more than 30 years, and says she has never had a problem taking in students.

Her last “digs” tenants were two male students from Cork and Donegal. “They were very respectful, we treated them as our own.”

There are ground rules between the homeowner and the student. Ms Frey’s house rules include no loud noise after 10pm, no parties, and if the students are coming home late, or not at all, they are asked send her a text saying as much.

Cooking facilities

Some “digs” arrangements have strict rules, with students not allowed to use certain rooms in the house or the cooking facilities.

Ms Frey says the proper approach to renting a room to a student is to “open up your family home as you can’t just expect them to sit in their own room all night”

Your student is coming from a different culture, and is planning on being away from the safety and comfort of his or her home for a varied period of time. Most of them are traveling abroad for the first time. While this can be exciting, it can also become overwhelming. Here are four tips of what you can do as a host to help your student to adjust to a new culture:

4 top tips when hosting students

1.    Be patient…

Be patient with your student and do not be surprised if he or she is unfamiliar with things that we take for granted. Many things, like common appliances, work differently in other countries. Don’t assume that your student will know how to use your washing machine or television.


2.    Be understanding…

Be understanding of your student’s reaction to your culture. It is possible that things you do or say might come across as offensive or rude in other countries, just like it is possible that some common reactions or comments in other countries might seem offensive to you.


3. Be open-minded…

Be open-minded and try to understand that the differences that you are witnessing between different cultures are not necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but different. Try to be curious about his or her culture and most important respect the differences.


4.    Be communicative…

Be communicative and encourage your student to talk to you and ask you questions. Sometimes students can be either shy or afraid to initiate a conversation; therefore, it’s important that you initiate small talks and use the meal times as a time to get to know your student and his or her culture better.


'The living room is out of bounds': Could renting your spare room pay off your mortgage?

Picture in your mind's eye a third-level student, and it's likely that you've conjured up a slightly uneasy picture featuring lie-ins, cider cans, Pot Noodles and not a lot of Cillit Bang. Students have endured a bad rap for years, but given a recent tweak in the budget, they could hold the key to financial comfort for homeowners.

This year, the amount that one can earn tax-free on the rent-a-room scheme has increased from €12,000 to €14,000. It's a timely turn of events, given that students have had a task on their hands trying to find suitable accommodation this year.

According to, in early August 2016 there were 87 properties available to rent in Cork city - 1,000 fewer than on the same day six years ago.

And so thoughts turn to the humble digs system, which has long been an Irish institution. Homeowners would rent out to students on Monday to Friday, with the unspoken agreement often in place that they would return to their home county on the weekends. The cooking was basic, the room doubly so, but digs were preferable to a commute from rural Ireland. Yet the idea of digs fell somewhat out of fashion down the years, on the part of student and homeowner alike.

Figures show that while 10pc of Irish students stayed in digs in 2000, the figure dropped to 2pc in 2006.

Yet according to Dr Brian Gormley, head of campus life at DIT, all indications show that the figure has "increased dramatically" since then.

"Homeowners are increasingly looking into the digs option," he says. "Many of my city centre neighbours rent out rooms to students. Students have a kind of antiquated view around digs, and worry about not having the freedom and independence they'd have if they rented on their own. But in reality, that's not the experience that they have. Survey results show that students who live in digs are happier than those who live in independent accommodation. And why not? Meals and utilities are often looked after, and the houses are warm and well kept, which might not be the case in a private rental. It's a win-win."

And a growing number of people are realising the merits in not just a tax-free cash injection, but some younger and spirited company to boot.

Laura Farrington lives in Irishtown, Dublin 4, and has recently moved into a promising new career as a personal trainer. But amid a momentous career switch, one thing has weighed heavily on her mind: the mortgage on her three-bedroom house.

"I'd had issues with roommates before, and I did Airbnb, but it was more work than I wanted to give," she admits. "I didn't want to come home on a Friday night to have housemates drinking and smoking in the living room, which would absolutely be their right. Part of me didn't want to rent out a room at all, but I wanted to afford my mortgage."

"It seemed the best choice that suited my lifestyle," says Laura. "I wanted independent students that wouldn't be hanging around the house all the time. My boyfriend and I were allowed to state that certain parts of the house, like the living room, were out of bounds, so we have that space in the house. I can't believe I didn't do it sooner. It's quite easy money."

Initially, Laura was cynical of the idea: "My mum rented rooms out to students when I was younger and I hated it. It was such an invasion, having to cook for these people and make an effort. It wasn't something I wanted to do."

Thanks to the site, Laura could create an arrangement that suited her, and this meant that she doesn't need to cook meals for the students that live with her. Ground rules are also set out through the website before each student moves in.

"It's been really fantastic as they're so independent," she explains. "There are no issues around the kitchen, no queues at the bathroom.

"They're both in their finals so they have the head down," she adds. "They're usually out and about, often at the gym."

With everyone in the mix pleased with the arrangement, Laura admits that the cash injection has been a boon.

"I've just come back from a trip in India, and I can start my new career under no financial pressure," she says. "The mortgage is taken care of, food is paid for and I've a bit left over. It's great not to have to worry about any of that right now."

Paula Noone, a housewife from Artane in Dublin, has a similar happy ending. Entirely by happenstance, Paula noticed that a young friend was looking for accommodation on Facebook.

"She was stuck, and I had a room, so I thought, 'Why not?'" she recalls. "I loved having them. My children and grandchildren live their own lives, so I was pleased to be having the company."

Now on her third student, a French girl (previously, she hosted two Italian students), Paula offers a traditional digs arrangement, albeit with a twist: "I offer the student a bedroom and we occasionally sit and eat. They're welcome to food if it's there, although they often cook for themselves.

"I don't have any ground rules, and we like them to treat the house as if it's their home," she adds. "Once they can feel part of the family, they treat the place very well."

Thus far, Paula hasn't experienced 'typical' student behaviour, although has had reason to be maternal towards her charges: "The girl I have now isn't a big socialiser, and she wants to see more of Ireland so she's out a lot. The other girl I had before used to play music and would go to the International Bar for gigs. I'd have to remind her to be careful coming home."

Paula can easily see the benefits of a digs arrangement for homeowners and students alike: "A lot of students rent horrible places, and this way, they get to come home to a warm house where they have food, and they're safe. It's great to be able to just sit and have a conversation with someone. That's why I would say to a widow living on her own, this is a great idea. It means there's a few bob around, and always someone in the house."

Marie Reidy recently waved her youngest child, aged 24, off into the big bad world, and has welcomed NUI Maynooth students into her home in Celbridge, Kildare for three years.

"The number one reason was financial, but I didn't want a houseshare situation," the teacher explains. "They're gone in the summer, and if they're Irish they're gone on the weekends.

"Ninety per cent of the time, the parents will ring about the house," she says.

For Marie, a balance should be struck between offering support and allowing youngsters to become independent. "I never let them eat by themselves," she notes. "I think a lot of people might be a bit 'go to your room, I don't want to see you', but I find they're not around too much in the first place.

"These particular girls don't really go out (socialising) but I'd say to students, 'if you're not coming home, just send me a text if you're staying out'. It's not necessarily in a motherly way, but more in the way that if your housemates didn't come home, you'd expect to hear from them."

Currently, Marie rents to a young Iranian student, and an Italian student.

"The Iranian girl's brother arranged her digs, and initially she wanted to live by herself, but she has said to me, 'I'm so glad I live with a family who cooks for me'. She has a friend living on campus who isn't quite as happy.

"For me, it's great as I get to learn about other cultures. We sit and have dinner together almost every night, and it's nice to just sit and talk. I'm learning how to make Persian food now as it's nice to be able to give them meals from their own country."


A guide for landlords

• Use a site  which vets students using an ID and credit card check.

• If quietude is your thing, try looking for a mature student or someone doing post-doctoral studies, as they will likely be more self-sufficient.

• Set out ground rules from the outset: don't be afraid to tell your tenant that you'd like to make a family meal at a certain time each day, or that you and your family will need the bathroom at a fixed point.

• A little hospitality goes a long way, so be prepared on occasion to share your common areas like sitting rooms.

A guide for students

• Don't let Mammy do all the spadework. Meet the homeowner of the digs yourself and get a feel of the space.

• Make sure there is Wifi.

• The set up: You have a room in a family home and meals - generally breakfast and dinner - will be provided. If you are unsure about boundaries, talk it through with your landlord and hammer out some house rules.

• If the agreement is that you will be gone on weekends, stick to that as faithfully as you can.

• The point is that digs is meant to resemble home, which is ideal for those nervous about moving away for the first time. Don't take this literally, mind. This, alas, doesn't give you licence to lie splayed on the couch every evening or drink directly from the milk carton.

The Best Universities in England & Ireland for International Students

iconic london bridge at night

So you want to study in England? Fantastic choice. Not only are you a stone’s throw from continental Europe, you have access to a long list of globally recognized universities. Whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate, or study abroad student, there are schools to meet your needs. Most schools have international student offices that can assist you with visas, scholarships, and language courses if necessary.

England is a true travel hub, with rail, bus, and airport links to the rest of the world. It’s easy to get to and from, and for the English speaker it’s a nice transition, as you won’t face a language barrier (though deciphering slang and accents is another story) You’ll find history, architecture, cosmopolitan cities, and beautiful scenery all in one little country.

The real challenge is choosing a university that’s right for you. With all of the information available, it can be tough to choose. Consider your preferred program of study, university size, proximity to major cities, and available scholarships to help narrow down the choices. Read on for the best universities in England for international students.

Oxford University

1. Oxford University

Chances are, you’ve heard of Oxford. It’s the oldest university among English-speaking countries, and if that’s not enough, scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed here. One-third of Oxford’s student body is international, and sixty-three percent of post-graduate students come from outside of the UK. The university’s strength is in research that covers multiple disciplines, from humanities to medicine.

Oxford is about 90 minutes northwest of London. The campus is gorgeous and the town has a long history of craft breweries. What more could you ask for from a college town?

University of Manchester.

2. Kingston University

As a Kingston alumnus, I had to list this university first. Located in Kingston-upon-Thames, about 30 minutes southwest of London, this is a great place to study. There are postgraduate scholarship opportunities and meet-ups for international students. The campus is compact, and there are a number of accommodation options nearby.

It was the only university I came across to offer a Masters Degree in travel writing – a discipline that was right up my alley. Although the in-class time was less than what I was used to (2 classes a week for 1 year), the support was excellent and I was thrilled with the results.

Kingston is a charming town on the River Thames; a shopper’s paradise with charming old buildings. It’s cozy in the winter and balmy in summer, making it a fun place to be a student.

3. University of Manchester

With 8,000 international students, Manchester claims to have one of the most diverse student populations in the UK. They offer airport pickup for students and host information sessions in countries around the world, including Brunei, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Accommodation is guaranteed for all fee-paying international students.

Manchester is a lively town in northwest England, and is known for its football team as well as architecture and music scene. Manchester is serviced by buses, rail, and has its own airport.

4. University College London

Known as ‘London’s Global University,’ UCL is a popular spot with international students. It is one of the top universities in the UK and has a top-ten ranking with QS World University Rankings. Classes are small, with an average of nine students per teacher. Thirty percent of students are international, and courses focus on internationally relevant topics.

UCL is located smack-dab in London’s Bloomsbury, a pretty neighborhood near Regent’s Park and the British Museum. As an international capital, London is hard to beat – you’ll never run out of things to do.

Bristol University

5. University of Southampton

The Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2012 ranked Southampton7th in the UK for student satisfaction. Out of the 22,000 students enrolled, 5,000 are international. Every student is entitled to three years of career advice after graduation, and the university collaborates with academic institutions all over the world.

Southampton is on the south coast of England, near the Isle of Wight. Old town walls still stand, and it was the launching pad for the RMS Titanic, which you might be familiar with. Its nickname is the “Green City,” thanks to its parks and green spaces, which make it conducive to summer festivals and events.

6. Bristol University

Bristol was the first UK University to welcome women on an equal footing with men, and the first in the UK to establish a drama department. It is also environmentally-friendly: it was the first to become involved with the Green Impact Awards and is an accredited ‘Fairtrade University.’ Country-specific information is available on their website for international students.

The university is in downtown Bristol, a thriving yet relaxed town of cafes, bars, museums, and shops. Bristol is in Southwest England, and was a finalist for the European Capital of Culture in 2008.

7. University of Buckingham

The University of Buckingham is the UK’s only private university with a Royal Charter and only has 1000 students. However, roughly 90 nationalities are represented and more than half of the students are from overseas. There are five schools of teaching: Law, Humanities, Arts & Languages, Business, and Science & Medicine. The university spends more than most in the UK on IT, which builds a modern academic environment.Buckinghamshire is just over an hour northwest from London, in an attractive setting home to scores of native wildlife.

8. University of Nottingham

It’s not just for Robin Hood – the University of Nottingham is a major player in England’s international universities. The QS World University Rankings place Nottingham in the top 1 percent of universities in the world. Nottingham’s emphasis on internationalism in all areas of study makes it a great choice for foreign students. Besides its UK campus, Nottingham has campuses in Malaysia and China.

The UK campus is broken into four main campuses, and a free hopper bus connects them all. Nottingham is in the midlands, among rolling green fields and on the banks of the River Trent.

Now comes the hard part- deciding which school to choose. It is difficult to go wrong in a country that has been a leader in higher education for so long, so no matter where you end up you are guaranteed both a great education and a good time