By Viv Scott
“There are other English dishes, apart from fish and chips” came from an overseas student after visiting a Belper family. For the young person, far from home, this was a marvellous opportunity to find out about everyday life in Derbyshire and was perhaps their only opportunity to meet people in their own homes. For almost twenty years I’ve hosted overseas students from countries including Iran, Azerbaijan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Russia, China and India. They’ve often come for Christmas, when students are often very lonely, far from their families. Some friendships have led to visits by parents, photos of new-born babies and dinner invitations. One student sorted out my computer and also helped a couple of my friends. Most exciting of all, when I was invited to Siberia to visit my student’s family, I travelled on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Omsk to find out how ordinary people live in Russia. But for most overseas students this is dream that can’t be realised, because there are far more students applying for invitations than host families. It’s organised by HOST which links people all over the UK with overseas students and welcomes applications from single people and couples as well as families. Hosts can choose from a list of students and there is usually plenty of time to share details about each other before the visit takes place, which can be at any time of the year, not just at Christmas. Email makes contact easy – swapping photos and anecdotes allow host and student to get to know each other. But even without email, letters can be exchanged and telephone conversations help a host to get to know their student. Some hosts worry about entertaining their guest. In fact, students usually find day-to-day living with a British family fascinating, with no need to do anything special, but just carry on with normal routines – dog-walking, trips to shops, church or pub. For me, Christmas means carol singing in the Market Place, dinner to cook and people to visit. Things run more smoothly when you’ve got a visitor to liven up your meal time with stories about life in a far-off country – a bit of arm-chair travelling! If you are interested, visit the website www.hostuk.org or contact HOST on 0207 739 6292. And at Christmas you might see me around Belper with a young student, showing them what a great place we live in.