Mr and Mrs Quirke have been hosting international students from Hampstead School of English in London for over 20 years. In the first of three homestay interviews led by Accommodation Officer, Helene, we find out about life at the Quirkes, how they became hosts and what they love about hosting students from all over the world:
Helene: Where are you from?
Mrs Quirke: I have been living in London my whole life!
Mr Quirke: I am from Ireland and moved with my family to the United Kingdom when I was 16 years old. Even though I was with family, I did find it hard to adjust in the beginning.
Helene: How long have you been working with Hampstead School of English?
Mrs Quirke: I just happened to be passing the school one day and decided to go in to enquire about being a host. Freda, who was the Accommodation Officer at the time, took my details and visited our home the following day. We had our first student that Sunday. I still remember her: a lovely Japanese girl who cried a lot on her last day!
Helene: What do you like most about hosting international students?
Mr Quirke: We love meeting students from around the world, especially when they try to teach us words in their own language.
Mrs Quirke: Yes, I know how to say “hello” in three different languages! I also love the connection we’ve had with our students, both past and present. I love to hear from past students and we often receive Christmas cards, birthday cards and flowers, which is always lovely.
Helene: Can you describe a typical day in your home?
Mrs Quirke: The day normally starts early for us. We wake up at 7am and prepare breakfast for our students. We lay the breakfast table with bread, jam, coffee or tea, but the students are welcome to eat different things if they prefer. They tend to eat together and I usually sit and chat with them. Then when they leave for school we do the housekeeping, making sure that each student’s bed is made and their rooms are thoroughly cleaned. In the afternoon the students normally come home after 4pm, when my husband starts preparing dinner – he loves doing the cooking…
Mr Quirke: Yes I love cooking, sometimes Mary’s even prohibited from the kitchen! 🙂 I keep evening meals varied, as we like to surprise the students – it could be pork chops one day, soup the next. After dinner, we usually all stay together at the dinner table talking about the day, the latest news, or even listening to music. We have a great memory of João, a Brazilian student who brought his guitar from his room one day and we all sat around singing Eric Clapton songs into the night (one of my favourite singers)!
Helene: What do you like to do in your free time?
Mrs Quirke: I have become a great collector of Irish porcelain jugs since our wedding in the 1970s, when we received one as a wedding present. I have porcelain jugs from each decade and you can distinctively see how they differ from decade to decade – for example, the 1980s jugs have a lot more colour in them than the 1970s!
Helene: What is your favorite food?
Mr Quirke: We like Indian food, Chinese food (especially sweet and sour dishes) and of course, a good stew. We don’t tend to order takeaway, I very much enjoy being in the kitchen and cooking meals for our students.
Helene: Have you ever travelled oversees?
Mr Quirke: I still have family in Ireland so I go back to visit quite frequently. Our favorite destinations are Ireland, Italy and Florida. In fact, one day when we were in Captiva Island in Florida we were woken up by a tornado alarm. At first we thought it was a false alarm so took no notice, but then when we opened the door we saw the chaos out in the hallway. We started running towards the refuge at that point!
Within England, we love to visit Cambridge, especially for the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. I’m a great fan of rowing.
Helene: What is your favorite place in London? Where would you recommend to students?
Mrs Quirke: We love going walking along the Embankment, especially in the evenings when London is lit up. It’s very romantic! I would also recommend nearby Kenwood House and Hampstead Heath, where you can walk around the park and watch all kinds of birds, deer and woodpeckers in their natural habitat.
Helene: What advice would you give to students wishing to stay in a host family?
Mrs Quirke: The best advice I have for students is to speak to your homestay host if there is something troubling you. As hosts we are here for your safety and comfort so are always available to talk.
HOW CAN I BECOME A HOMESTAY HOST? Contact us to find out more.
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Photography by alefilizzola.