International exchange

Fiona Kitchen has set up a website for families who want to host foreign students. She talks to about how she set it up and how it works for her two children, who she home schools.

Fancy earning some extra money? Have you considered hosting students from other countries?

Xilfee, a homestay language teaching company, says host families can earn between £100 and £245 a week with a foreign homestay student living with them.

Families who also provide tuition can earn between £12 and £15 an hour depending on qualifications or £6,120 a year for just six students taking a two-week languages holiday.

Most homestay students tend to be around 18 or 25 years old, but Xilfee deals with children are as young as six and mature students of around 56 years of age who want to enjoy staying and studying overseas.

Host families are paid to cover costs for food, transportation, and general living expenses during a homestay.

Xilfee’s founder is mum of two Fiona Kitchen who says host families can learn a lot through the experience. Her two children know that more than most. They have been homeschooled, but far from being isolated from the rest of the world, they have spent their childhood in the very midst of it and have a passion for languages.

Xilfee was set up by Fiona around 10 years ago after she was asked by a friend to help out with organising local host families for students in Nottinghamshire several years ago.

Fiona not only organises host families, but she has also acted as a host and she and her husband Matthew have done TEFL courses so they can teach the students. Fiona has good experience of teaching through homeschooling both her children.

When she set up the business, Fiona only had her daughter Lucy. She went to primary school for 18 months, but was having problems with her reading. Fiona took her to a specialist who said she was in the top 2% of children in terms of her intelligence, but had problems with her reading and writing. Fiona took her out of school and she seemed to thrive.

Lucy, who is now 12, went to a secondary grammar school for a year, but it was a long way from home and meant she was exhausted and didn’t have time for all the extra-curricular activities such as music that she loved. She also only got to learn French and German, when she was used to studying several languages. So Fiona decided to home school her again. “She loves it,” says Fiona. “It’s totally child-led at home and she more or less gets on with her own learning. If she needs help, she asks me.”

Fiona’s son Felix went to nursery, but as soon as he moved out of reception he didn’t want to go to school any more and Fiona took him out. “He didn’t like the formalised learning thing,” says Fiona. “In other European countries they don’t make children do that until eight. Felix likes larking about and he enjoys playing his musical instruments.” So much so that he was in a concert last year at the age of six. He’s also very much into animals and has guinea pigs and ducklings.

One of the concerns about homeschooling is the lack of social interaction, but Lucy and Felix don’t have any worries on that score. They do a large number of drama, sport and music clubs – Lucy plays five instruments and Felix plays four – and they also benefit from having all the language students who come to stay with the family.

“From the age of seven Lucy has been to France every year. She’s travelled to places like Serbia and Poland and is doing five languages. Felix has also travelled with us to Europe and speaks some French. Both of the children think it is normal to learn languages. They are very international,” says Fiona.

The family have made close links with students abroad and their families. One French student’s family are close friends and they are now on the Xilfee website offering to host students in France.

Fiona and her family are now living in her parents’ house as they are hoping to go travelling soon. “The business is set up so we can travel with the children,” says Fiona.

The students who the family host sometimes do classes with Lucy and Felix. Many are year 6 students. “For homeschoolers it’s a real gift,” says Fiona. “Even the older teenaged students tend to get on really well with younger children. They come in and start playing with them and completely accept younger children. Lucy and Felix think Europeans are great. It’s made a big impression on them.”

The type of students who come through Xilfee vary. Some are on short school trips; others come with an adult; others come to study at a language school.

Fiona and Matthew have been working hard on the website in the last year. It allows students to choose their own host families online and puts families and students into direct contact. Matthew, a computer programmer, has done most of the coding for the website in the evenings after work.

Fiona writes the articles on the site and maintains it, adding new students and families. The host families have to fill out a detailed form which Fiona then carefully checks. Students and host families have to each ’Accept’ an invitation from the other before contact details are exchanged. They are free to turn down someone if they don’t think they are right for them, without the fear of upsetting them. “We put in place a number of safeguards,” says Fiona.

She says the host families are very diverse and include a number of working mums who are looking for extra income.

The students used to come through agents in the beginning, but gradually Xilfee has built up direct links. People pay a subscription fee to Xilfee, but deal directly with the host family. “It means the host family gets more money and the students pay less since there are no agent’s commission fees,” says Fiona.

Since it started Xilfee has dealt with students from 32 nationalities. Most come from Europe, but there have been students from as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Mexico. The site has host families in the UK, the US and Canada. There are also British families in France and Spain.

Fiona says the whole experience has a positive impact on both students and host families. She says her children, for instance, are much more confident as a result. “I hope that they will look back on their childhoods fondly,” she says. “Everything we do is centred around the children and it works very well for us.”

*Xilfee are currently offering a special rate to users who want to host students. There are many profiles on the site. A Level 2 Premium Membership includes 12 photographs and lasts for 12 months  which Xilfee says will give you plenty of time to find students who will fit into your household and routine perfectly. Currently costing £39.99 it is available for a limited period at half price £20.00 on Type XIL-WM1-112 into the Promotion Box upon registering.

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