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When I was 21, I traded campus life in the U.S. for a four-month “study” abroad program in Paris.
My host family, 53-year-old Madame Sheps and her brown-eyed poodle Zelda, kindly invited me to stay in their chic two-bedroom apartment just steps from the Eiffel Tower. Score!
My French accent was funny and I had a tendency to come home late (c’mon it’s Paris), but they didn’t care; the stipend they received via my tuition was their meal ticket and then some. M. Sheps told me so. The supplemental income helped pay rent, groceries and Zelda’s organic kibble. The only thing she asked of me was to finish my plate when she cooked and to limit my showers to five or ten minutes. Occasionally I’d be handed Zelda’s leash. Oh, and no English, s’il vous plait.
WANT A FEW HUNDRED MORE A MONTH?
While inviting a foreign student to live in your home is not a new concept, for American households who’d never considered the idea but are feeling a bit strapped these days, it may offer a way to earn some modest additional income in a tough economy. “It’s not a get rich quick plan,” says Anji Viola, a home stay coordinator at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, Wash. But, she continues, any leftover money from the stipend—which is meant to help the host family pay for additional food and utilities—may come in handy. You might even pick up on some German or Mandarin, depending on who pays you a visit. And the inflow of foreign students is noticeably on the rise, says Viola. “I am overwhelmed at times to the point where I don’t know if I’ll have enough homes [for the students],” she says, noting most of her applicants are from Asia this year. And no doubt the weak dollar offers one incentive to foreign students wanting to explore the states.
While many non-profit exchange programs ask for host families to volunteer out of the pure goodness of their hearts for free, those coordinated directly by universities and colleges tend to offer host families a stipend, anywhere from $250 to roughly $500 a month, depending on the provisions. Starting this fall for one quarter at Skagit Valley College, host families can earn $525 a month for providing a “traditional” home stay, which includes a private room and meals. The boarder feels like a part of the family. A “non-traditional” home stay, with simple access to a room and kitchen, more like a roommate situation, earns host families $375 a month.
STILL INTERESTED? HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Know Your Comfort Zone. Let’s face it: If you’re not a people-person or hate having a roommate, you are better off finding a way to cut a few hundred dollars out of your monthly budget, than to take on a boarder and earn some extra income. While Madame Scheps profited of me, it wasn’t all business for her. She took me to the theatre for my birthday and did my laundry, even though it wasn’t required. She also gave me a thorough tour of the neighborhood my first weekend. It earned her a lot of respect.
Search Locally. While study abroad programs try to do their own outreach to find host families for students, it’s good to be proactive. The best place to inquire about becoming a host is the international or foreign studies department at your local college. Many schools will also post ads in the classified section of local newspapers. Craigslist is also a popular place for listings.
Do a Background Check. “Assuming they got a Visa to get in the country assumes they don’t have a criminal background,” says Viola. Still, it’s worth taking some extra steps to ensure the student is legit. Most solid programs will connect the student and the host family prior to the move via email and phone to get to know one another. A free Google (GOOG) and/or Facebook search of their name is also highly recommended.
Set Your Expectations Early On. When I didn’t eat all the duck Madame Scheps had prepared for me my first night in Paris, she said quite matter-of-factly that I should never waste food in her house. I had cited in my application that I didn’t eat red meat, but she said she never read that. No worries. It was a miscommunication that was quickly and civilly rectified. (Luckily, Zelda was also a walking garbage disposal. He gladly ate my leftover duck!) Bottom line: Be upfront to foreign visitors about your house rules to avoid any issues down the road.
Do a Test Run. Agree to a trial stay of about one month before fully committing. This gives you, the host, an opportunity to change your mind, should the situation get hairy. Three months into living with Madame Scheps I switched out of her apartment into another family’s house. Turned out one of her sons needed to move back home with her, leaving no room for me. It was an amicable break up, and she and I would occasionally still have lunch during my final months in Paris.
Catch more of Farnoosh’s advice on Real Simple. Real Life. on TLC, Friday nights at 8 p.m.