Mrs Alfaoli moved to the UK from Iran to learn English nearly 40 years ago, and has been hosting homestay students from Hampstead School of English for a decade. She learnt about hosting from her neighbour, who was also a homestay host at the time, and started straight away. In the second of special three-part series of Hampstead homestay interviews, Mrs Alfaoli invites us into her home to share her experience:
Helene: What do you like best about hosting international students?
Mrs Alfaoli: When I started hosting students I liked it so much I decided to keep doing it. I enjoy it – it offers great companionship and keeps me busy. I love learning about the student’s family life and where they come from, the sounds and sights of their home country. I really can’t think of anything I don’t like about hosting Hampstead students!
Helene: What is a typical day like in your home?
Mrs Alfaoli: Each morning I wake up at around 7, get up and prepare breakfast for the students. I normally lay the table with cereal, toast, milk or coffee, and when they come in I ask them what they would like to eat. They usually come into the kitchen between 8 and 8:30am. When they leave for school I start cleaning the rooms and bathrooms, as well as make their beds. By 10am I’m at work, I currently work as Catering Supervisor at a local school.
In the evening when I come home I usually start cooking dinner straightaway – my specialty is rice with aubergines! We normally sit down to eat at around 7pm; there is always a good atmosphere around the dinner table with lots of laughter! My students tell me funny stories about their day and I share mine. After dinner, I tend to stay in the kitchen with the students, talking or watching television. Their favourite programme is “Home and Away”, a very popular Australian show.
Helene: What do you do in your free time?
Mrs Alfaoli: If the student is new I make sure I spend some quality time with them. On the first day, I’ll take them to the local supermarket to pick fresh produce, or maybe to Boots to buy shampoo and any essentials. Then we normally spend some time together in Golders Green, sometimes stopping for a coffee and a chat to get to know each other. When the students are out I often go out for walks, there is a small park right next to my home that I normally go to.
Helene: What is your favourite food?
Mrs Alfaoli: I enjoy eating everything! If I had to pick a favourite dish, it would probably be fish. Salmon specifically – I love grilled salmon with vegetables or noodles, the students love this dish too.
Helene: Have you ever travelled oversees?
Mrs Alfaoli: I’ve been to many countries, including the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Turkey and Egypt. I also love going back to visit my family in Iran, I try to fly over every couple of years to see them.
My dream holiday would be a trip to Japan and Korea. I’ve heard so many stories from my students, both past and present, and would love to see those places for myself!
Helene: What is your favourite place in London and what would you recommend to students?
Mrs Alfaoli: I would definitely recommend the London Eye and going to see Big Ben, but my favourite place in London has to be the secret garden in Golders Hill. It is a gem of a place that is hidden away in Golders Hill Park. You reach it through a secret passageway that opens to a park with a beautiful pond, where you can sit and have a sandwich, or do some yoga exercises next to the pond in the morning. I love taking my students there!
Helene: What advice would you give to students who are thinking of staying with a homestay host?
Mrs Alfaoli: One of my biggest pieces of advice is to always feel free in your homestay’s house, and both sides should always be respectful of each other’s space.
Helene: Do you have any funny memories to share?
Mrs Alfaoli: There are many! One time I had a Turkish boy staying with me who loved to eat cheese. To please him I bought a kilo of Feta cheese and when I woke up in the morning it had all gone, and when I asked him about it he told me: ‘I only eat Feta during the day and the night!’
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Photography by alefilizzola.