Home Un-Sweet Home: The Truth About Homestay

Sarabi Eventide reports on NYU Shanghai's new homestay program and its progress so far.

During the Spring 2016 semester, Dean Visconti introduced a homestay program that would become a housing option for students studying in Shanghai beginning in Fall 2016. The program is available to both Chinese and International students who wish to broaden their understanding of other cultures and practice their language skills.

Chinese students would be placed with international hosts, typically in their twenties or thirties, while international students would be placed with Chinese families of a wide range of ages. In the event that hosts and students turn out to be incompatible, NYU Shanghai would help students arrange another homestay.

Initially, NYU Shanghai students were extremely excited by the prospect of finally being able to not only live off-campus, but also experience a more personal and perhaps more intense version of the cultural exchange that is already present in the NYU Shanghai community. But these beginning cries of joy soon turned into whimpers of despair as students realized the homestay program would be significantly more expensive than “standard double” housing in the NYU Shanghai residence hall. Despite the price, however, a handful of students successfully applied for and received homestay offers.

The application, though, is only the first step of the process.

After the application, the NYU Shanghai faculty and staff dedicated to the homestay program went through the student responses and attempted to match them with host families who have agreed to work with the school. Before the students accepted the homestay offers, they met with their hosts, either in-person or on Skype. If both the student and the family agreed they like each other, students could move in and begin their homestay.

In an attempt to find out more about students’ personal experiences with the program, OCA staff members contacted several students, but those that replied asked that their responses be kept off the record and that they remain anonymous. From the responses we gathered, it seems many of the students have had unsatisfactory experiences with their homestays and are either in the process of moving out or have already moved out.

Some students had banking issues that prevented them from being able to pay (homestays are paid month-to-month and are not charged to students’ NYU Bursar account) while others had more personal issues with their host families. There is no word yet as to whether these students will be placed with new families.

Based on negative responses OCA staff received, one might wonder about the future success of the homestay program. Because the program is still in its beginning stages, it is still too early to deliver a prognosis for NYU Shanghai homestay. Students will give their feedback on the program after this semester, and it will be up to NYU Shanghai whether the program will be modified.

Still, many students are wondering whether it would be more beneficial to arrange their own off-campus housing.

As it turns out, filing for off-campus housing and finding a homestay independent of NYU Shanghai is no less perilous. Tomasz Merta, a senior studying neuroscience, attempted to follow this path for his final year at NYU Shanghai.

Merta enrolled in a program that offered him a home with a Chinese program in exchange for English lessons. It should be noted that this arrangement was not a means of employment; it is illegal for international students to hold paid off-campus work positions. Instead, Merta’s program is considered more of an exchange of services, and he was still required to follow all of the necessary steps with regard to filing for off-campus housing and registering with the local police.

During his time at the homestay, Merta’s family continually asked him to teach more lessons to the children and pay more money for the stay, without giving him anything in return. Needless to say, the situation was less than ideal and Merta is currently in the process of annulling his contract. Fortunately, the contract has explicit terms that provide him certain protections he would otherwise not be afforded.

All in all, the youth of the NYU Shanghai homestay program makes it peculiar in that there is not yet much substance on which to comment. Though the current semester has not seen much success, there is still an opportunity for the program to grow and improve. With student feedback and better algorithms with which to match students to hosts, the success rate is likely to rise. As with any new idea NYU Shanghai introduces, students must be patient in order to fully realize the outcomes.

This article was written by Sarabi Eventide. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Arshaun Darabnia

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