Written by SU London student Courtney Egelston. Published on her blog.
I’ve been told life in London is much different from life in the rest of Britain, and this weekend I got to find out how.
Host UK is a voluntary organization that matches up international students with willing families to stay for a weekend. SU London pays a portion of the program’s application fee, making it only 20 pounds to participate. Your host family covers all the costs of your visit including every activity you do and all your meals, though you need to pay for transportation to the family’s house. When applying you list your preferences for the area you’d like to stay in, the types of activities you’re interested in doing, and the general family composition you’re looking for. I asked to be in the countryside, preferably on a farm. I wound up in Tiverton, Devon (three hours west of London and near the coast) at a house with a barn and three chickens. It was a perfect match.
On my first night, my host mom, Julia, and her mother-in-law, Patsy, took me to a Christmas fair in town. All the little shops played Christmas music and passed out homemade baked goods and everyone on the streets said hello to me. It was the kind of small town hospitality I rarely see in London and have missed so much while abroad. After a homemade dinner, Julia and her husband Simon sat around drinking tea and talking about the differences in US and Britain with me. I got to ask the questions I’ve been wondering about Britain, like what they think of the National Health System, their thoughts on America’s involvement in foreign wars, and why they don’t like peanut butter. My interest in their lives was matched with their interest in mine and for each question I asked about Britain they asked one about America. I asked how someone becomes a knight and they wanted to know why America is so religious. I had worried we would have nothing to say to one another, but we wound up talking until 2 a.m.
In the next couple days we went out to a proper English tea, visited a nearby national park, drove through the countryside, and watched their favorite British TV shows. Julia showed me how to make her favorite holiday pudding and Simon taught me the meanings of British slang I still haven’t figured out. With Christmas approaching fast, I’ve been feeling torn between never wanting to leave London and missing being with friends and family during the holidays. Reading the newspaper next to a burning fire and listening to the family’s 16-year-old son talk about his weekend plans, I felt at home and homesick all at once. The couple met while studying at Oxford and have traveled all over the world. Their house was a mess of mixed treasures and their stories were from nearly every continent.
Early on in London I learned that most Brits eat a “Sunday roast,” so I started making a weekly trek to the nearest pub. But this Sunday I sat at a packed dinner table in the English countryside and shared a home-cooked meal with a British family. When it was time to go I hugged everyone goodbye without feeling at all awkward. The Bonvoisins weren’t my real family, but they had opened up their doors to me like they were.