Student Handbook

ELS Language Centers would like to welcome you as a participant to the Oklahoma City Homestay Program. This program has been designed to provide you with room and board, as well as, the opportunity to make friends in Oklahoma City, to learn about American culture, and to practice at home the English that you will be learning in class.

This handbook has been prepared to help you enjoy all of the benefits of your homestay experience. It is your responsibility and to your benefit to read it carefully. If you have any questions, please ask your homestay parent(s), ELS Homestay Coordinator (Denny McConnell), ELS International Student Advisor (Ashley Ledford), or ELS Center Director (Nelson Einwaechter). This handbook will inform you what you, as a paying guest, can expect from your homestay family. It will also inform you what your homestay family expects of you while living in their home.

The keys to a successful homestay experience are understanding and flexibility. If misunderstandings occur please speak to one of the individuals mentioned above for help. Allow your expectations to be flexible and you will better adapt to the living environment of your new homestay.

We hope you will enjoy your homestay and that you will make many new friends during your studies with ELS Language Centers in Oklahoma City.

The Homestay Experience

Unlike college or university residence halls (dormitories) where every bedroom, bathroom, dresser, bed, desk, etc. is the same, your homestay accommodations will vary depending upon the homestay family. Some homestay students will be in houses, while others may be in apartments or condominiums. Sizes of the bedrooms, the types of dressers and desks, and shared or private bathrooms will all be different from home to home. All of the homestay families who have been selected to participate in this program will provide comfortable accommodations. It is most important that you understand that each ELS homestay family is different, not better than another.

The homestay program for ELS has many different kinds of living arrangements. You may be in a homestay with a married couple with or without children, a single parent with children living in the home, a retired couple whose children are now grown or a single person. All of the homestay families in our program have an interest in you, the newly-arrived international student. Their goal is providing you a pleasant living and learning experience in their homes while you are enrolled in ELS. You can feel comfortable knowing that your homestay family is there to help you when you need it.

We need your help each session to provide us with current pictures of you with your homestay family. We will display some pictures on our new ELS BLog It is so fun to find a picture of you with your host family! Plus, we hope it will encourage students living in the dorm to ask to transfer into homestay because they can readily see they are missing out on some great times.

Please keep your camera ready to snap pictures when you do things with your homestay family like fishing, golfing, working in the garden, playing games, putting together puzzles, eating at restaurants, etc. The only requirement is that both you and at least one person in the homestay family be in the picture. Please list the names of the persons in the picture, where it was taken, and what you were doing.

Email your pictures to Denny McConnell. The earlier in the session the better so we have time to enjoy them before the session ends.

Thanks for your help!

Is Homestay Right for You?

While you and/or your parents may have decided that a homestay is the best housing option, a homestay is really more than just a place to stay during your English studies. A homestay requires that you share living space with other people; therefore, you will have to respect the rights and needs of others besides yourself. There will also be certain rules that you will have to obey. If you require considerable privacy and the ability to come and go as you wish, a homestay may not be as suitable for you as living in a dormitory room on campus or in an apartment.

How Does Homestay Work?

Homestay Session
Your homestay may be for a limited part or for the entirety of your studies at ELS. An ELS homestay session includes 27 nights/28 days. Each homestay session corresponds to the ELS four-week session study schedule. Arrival to the homestay is the Sunday before the ELS session begins. Students who will not continue as a student at ELS must move out of their homestays by noon on the Saturday after the ELS session ends.

Location of Homestays
Your family’s home is located in a safe and respectable area of the city. The travel time from your homestay to the Center is usually 5 to 25 minutes each way. Some families bring students to ELS on their way to their work and pick students up on their way home from work. Some homes are close enough to walk or ride a bicycle to school. Some have the option of providing bus fare for you.

Multiple Students in Homestays
Most homestays can only accommodate a maximum of one or two ELS students in the same homestay. However, we do have a few larger homes that can easily accommodate three students. In homes that can accommodate more than one student, we always try to mix nationalities of students and we try not to have two students in the same homestay who speak the same language. We require all homestay families to speak English. Occasionally, there are some families who have immigrated to the U.S., and English may not be their first language. To be in our homestay program, ELS has determined that such families speak English with near-native fluency or similar to Americans with regional dialects.

Your Living Space in Your Homestay

You will be provided a private bedroom in your homestay which will include a bed, dresser, closet, desk and lamp for studying and Internet access for your laptop, either in your bedroom or somewhere else in the home. Your room is your private space and no one will enter without your permission.

Please ask your host before you try to put anything on the walls of your bedroom (posters, pictures, etc.). This is considered common courtesy.

Fresh (clean) sheets and towels will be provided to you by your homestay parent(s). Most homestays ask you to be responsible for washing your own linens and clothes.

They will show you how to use the washing machine and how to make up your bed.

Meals Included in Your Homestay

A ‘continental’ breakfast and dinner seven days per week are included in your homestay fees.

Since many homestay parents work during the week, breakfast may be a self-help meal where you prepare your own breakfast. If this is the case in your homestay, your homestay parent will show you around the kitchen and show you where the cooking utensils and breakfast foods are kept. A typical continental breakfast might include the following: juice, coffee or tea with milk, cold or hot cereals and breads, bagels or muffins with butter and jelly or jam.

Sometimes your homestay parent may prepare larger breakfasts on the weekends with some sort of meat and eggs–this is called a full breakfast. Brunch may also substitute for breakfast on weekends. (Brunch is a combination of Breakfast and Lunch type foods usually served between 10:30 am and 1:30 pm.)

Your dinner is usually a hot meal prepared with a main course (usually meat, poultry or fish), a salad, one or two vegetables, and a beverage. There may be fruit or sweets served for dessert. The homestay parent/family is expected to have dinners with ELS students four or five nights per week. Dinner is an excellent time for you to practice your English and really get to know your homestay parent and family members, so try to be home for dinner.

Due to homestay parent commitments outside of the home (perhaps for children’s school meetings, church meetings, etc.) two or three nights of the week, occasionally you may need to have your dinner alone. If the homestay parent will not be home, you will receive instructions of how to warm your dinner. Generally, your homestay parent will leave prepared foods in the refrigerator or on a dinner plate that you will heat in the microwave oven.

Since dining times vary in countries throughout the world, you should find out what time your homestay parent(s) will serve dinner. Dinnertime in the U.S. is typically much earlier than in other countries (usually 6:00 – 7:30 pm).

You may need to modify your ‘biological clock’ to eat earlier than you are accustomed, and you may need to purchase your own snack foods if you become hungry late at night. Your homestay parent is not expected to prepare a dinner for the family at 6:30 pm and another dinner for you at 10:00 pm.

If you will not be coming home for dinner on a particular evening, it is common courtesy and expected that you will tell your homestay parent(s) in advance or call and leave a message on the family answering machine. If you will not be home for dinner, please tell your host one day before. If you do not know one day before, then please tell your host early in the day that you will not be home for dinner that evening.

You should not bring guests to dinner without advance permission of your homestay parent(s).

Meals NOT Included in Your Homestay

Lunches are not included in your homestay fees, but you have several choices for your lunch or mid-day meals. If you wish to prepare and bring your lunch to school each day, please ask your homestay parent to take you with them to the grocery store or supermarket where you may buy lunch foods to keep in the family refrigerator. A Buy-For-Less Grocery Store is just west of the OCU campus. You may purchase an OCU Student ID card for meals in the Cafeteria on campus. You will receive a packet from your Student Advisor with restaurants located near the OCU campus (McDonalds, China House, Quiznos, etc)

In-between meal snack foods such as cookies, fruit, candy, potato chips, ice cream, Coca Cola and other drinks are not included in your homestay fees. If you wish to have these foods, it is your responsibility to buy them. You may buy these extra snacks/ beverages and specialty foods and keep them in the family refrigerator and pantry. It is not a good idea to bring or keep food in your bedroom, because it may spoil or attract insects.

What are My Responsibilities While Living in My Homestay?

Homestay Courtesy
Always say ‘thank you’ when your homestay family or anyone else shows you kindness. Say ‘please’ when you ask for something.

Generally speaking, Americans are informal, but using these words will help your American friends realize that you value their friendship. It is always better to say these words too much than not enough.

Homestay Respect
Mutual respect is expected in homestays. For some students, the role of women in the U.S. may be different than in your own country. The American household is run on equality, and women should be treated with the same respect, attention, and consideration as shown to men.

Your Safety
Although money is paid to your homestay host, you are not paying for a hotel room or apartment where you may come and go as you please. Your Homestay parent(s) realize you are an adult, but they feel responsible for you and care about you. Letting your homestay parent(s) know where you are going and when you will return is a common courtesy.

While Oklahoma City is very safe compared to other U.S. cities, it, too, has certain areas where students should be especially careful. It is a good idea not to wander around the city if you do not know where you are going. If you are not home when expected, your homestay parent may worry that something has happened to you. This is especially true if you stay out all night and don’t phone them to let them know that you are alright. Even if it is late, it is a good idea to phone or text a message to your homestay.

No Guests Without Permission
Also, you should not bring home overnight guests without advance permission of your homestay parent(s). Bringing members of the opposite sex into your bedroom may make your homestay parent very uncomfortable.

You should ask what time most family members go to bed so you will not disturb them by staying awake late into the night. If you come home late at night, please be quiet and lock the door after you enter.

For everyone’s safety and security, it is very important that you have your homestay parent show you how to turn the key to lock the doors. It is important to always remember to lock the windows in your bedroom when leaving the house. These are simply normal security procedures and do not mean that your homestay is located in an unsafe area.

Please do not play music loudly. Use headphones if you wish to play your music loudly.

Please discuss with your homestay family the times when the television in the living room may be turned on and when it should be turned off at night.

Abusive behavior (profanity, disrespect, damage to household items) toward the host causing them to be upset or causing extra unnecessary expenses may be reason to end your homestay and you will have to move out without refund.

Usually your homestay parent will give you a tour of their home and talk with you about the household rules. If you ever have any questions, please ask! If you feel too shy or don’t know how to ask your questions, please speak with the ELS Student Advisor or ELS Center Director for assistance.

Americans place great importance on cleanliness; they bathe every day, use deodorant after bathing, and wear clean clothes every day.

They also brush their teeth at least twice each day after eating. Please know that body odor and bad breath are very offensive to most people. Personal toiletries such as shampoo, soap, deodorants, toothpaste, facial tissue, and feminine hygiene products are not provided in your homestay. It is your responsibility to purchase and use these items.

Even though you are a paying guest in an American home, each member of the household typically has his/her own responsibilities. Your responsibilities include keeping your bedroom neat and clean. You should ask the family where the vacuum and other cleaning items are kept and how to use them to keep your room clean by vacuuming and dusting.

It is also a good idea to empty the waste can (trash basket) in you bedroom as well.

You should hang up your clothing, make your bed, and tidy up the bathroom after using it. This includes removing hair from the drain in the shower or bathtub and cleaning up water that has dripped on the floor. Please leave the bathroom as you would want it to be if you were the next person to use it. Always clean up after yourself whether in the bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen! You should also ask your homestay parent(s) where you can hang your wet towels. Do not hang wet towels or clothing in the bedroom or on the furniture as this may cause damage!

Remember, your host family will not be your maids or servants.

Laundry (Washing/Drying/Ironing Clothes)
The washing/drying procedure may be different in each homestay. Most homestay parents have washing machines and dryers in their homes. Homestay families in condominiums or apartments may have a separate community laundry room with coin-operated machines. You should buy your own laundry detergent to use and ask the advice of your homestay parent as to how much to use when you wash a load of laundry. Some washing machines use a special kind of detergent, so always ask your homestay parent what kind to buy.

Some homestay parents may offer to wash your clothes with those of the family; however, if you want to wash your clothes separately you should discuss this with your homestay parent(s). You should ask the location of the washing machine and how you can do your own laundry and how often it is permitted. Usually twice weekly is customary depending upon the members in the family and if there are small children. Generally speaking, it is your responsibility to wash and dry your own personal laundry.

If you need to iron clothing, please ask your homestay parent how you can do this. You must not leave a hot iron unattended (especially with small children in the home), and you must not leave it in the wrong place where it may burn and cause damage (to carpet, furniture, clothing, etc.)

Household Duties (Chores)
You may be asked to help set the meal table with plates and utensils (knives, forks, spoons) and/or help to clear the table after the meals and perhaps help to wash the dishes. You may also be asked to help with minor chores (small things to do) in the home. Don’t think of this as work. Make a chore into a learning experience and a time for conversation. Helping with yard work, watering the flower garden, etc. can be a fun time with the homestay family.

We don’t want any of our students in homestays to be treated like maids or servants. We only want you to know that it may be expected, as a temporary member of the family, to help with household chores that are shared among the family members. Typically, traditional American families do not have maids or servants.

You indicated in your homestay placement information about whether you smoke or not. Some households allow smoking inside the home, but for health reasons most households do not.

Our Homestay Coordinator tries to match students who smoke with homestays that allow smoking in the home, but this is not always possible. If you smoke but are assigned to a non-smoking household, you will not be permitted to smoke inside the home. In this case, ask where you may smoke. You may be told that you may smoke outside in a designated area in their yard, and you must not throw cigarette butts in the yard. Please extinguish cigarettes completely and put them in a garbage can. Your homestay family will not want to see cigarette butts, which is litter, in their yard. Please do not try to smoke in your bedroom and blow smoke out the window. This doesn’t work! It can also lead to an uncomfortable situation in your homestay when you do not follow the smoking rules.

You should receive instructions about your ability to smoke before you arrive to your homestay. Remember, most Americans are very aware of the health dangers of cigarette smoking and many have quit the habit. At home, and in public, it is always best to ask if anyone objects if you smoke around them.

Laws governing the drinking and buying of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor) in the U.S. are very strict with no exceptions. You must be over the age of 21 in the state of Oklahoma to drink and buy alcohol. In all cases, do not bring alcohol into your home without the permission of your host. Do not be upset if they prefer you not bring alcohol into the home. NEVER drink alcohol before or while driving.

Illegal Drugs
Illegal drugs (marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, illegal prescription drugs, etc.) are not tolerated in homestays. If you are discovered using drugs while living in your homestay, you will be asked to leave the homestay with no refund of fees. If you are arrested for possessing or consuming drugs, you may go to jail and/or be deported.

Weekend Trips
If you will be away for any weekends, please inform your host. You will not receive a refund for any nights that you are away because your room is being held just for you.

Family Activities
Your host family will invite you to participate in family outings or activities. We assume you will want to interact with your homestay in this way to improve your English skills. If you cannot participate, please tell your host one or two days in advance and thank them for inviting you. At all times, be considerate of their plans and try to join them when possible. This is one of the main reasons why you are part of the homestay program.

It is appropriate to offer (and, at times, expected) to pay your own way to movies, restaurants, or other family activities where there is a charge or fee involved.

Household pets (dogs, cats, birds) in American homes are very commonplace. This may be different than what you have experienced in your own country and should not be a cause for alarm. Many families value their pets as lesser family members and, over time, become very attached to their pets and are very sad when they die. If you are uncomfortable with pets in the home to which you have been assigned, please speak with the Homestay Coordinator.

Utilities (Water, Electricity, Heat, Air Conditioning)

As a member of your homestay family, you have a responsibility to help the family keep their utility expenses low. During some times of the year (especially summer), there are water shortages, and, as a result, you may be asked to limit your showers and keep them short. Please do not be offended if your homestay parent(s) reminds you if you use too much water. Please try to limit your showers to no more than 10-15 minutes. In addition, there may be other members of the household who want to use the shower, so be sure to limit your shower so they, too, will have hot water.

Plumbing and Toilets
Please do not put excess toilet paper, sanitary napkins/tampons, paper towels, or other bulky objects down the toilet. This may result in a plumbing blockage and can be very expensive for the homestay parent to repair.

If this occurs, it may be necessary for you to pay for damage if it is determined that the blockage is your fault.

Important: If a blockage occurs and the toilet begins to overflow with water, take action quickly by turning off the water flow to that toilet. All toilets have a valve (usually behind the left side of the toilet near the floor) which can be turned to shut off the water. This will prevent any mess or damage from becoming widespread. First, shut off the water to the toilet and then alert your homestay parent to determine the best course of action.

Please do not waste electricity. If you are studying and need to use the lights in your room, of course your homestay parents will not mind. But if you leave your bedroom lights on all night while you are sleeping, this is a waste of electricity. If you don’t like to sleep in the dark, ask your homestay parent if there is a low-wattage nightlight available for you to use. If not, you may have to buy one; these are inexpensive. Also, please make it a habit to turn off lights after you leave rooms.

Air Conditioning and Heating
Please do not attempt to operate the air conditioner or heating system. If you are too hot or too cold, tell your host. Do not keep your windows open without the homestay parent’s permission. This may waste heat or air conditioning.

Telephone Usage
The use of the telephone in your homestay is a privilege that you should not abuse. You should ask the homestay parent when you may use the telephone. Please keep your telephone calls brief. If a family member needs to use the telephone, please give up the phone for their use, especially if they must make an immediate phone call. All long distance phone calls must be made either “collect” or by using a “phone card” which can be bought in the office of the ELS Director of Admissions or at local convenience stores.

You may see 900 or 976 area calls advertised on television. Beware, these are very expensive phone calls! You must not call these 900 numbers! Tell your homestay parent about any 900 or long distance phone calls. ELS Language Centers does not ask you for telephone deposit money when you begin living in your homestay. However, if you make long distance calls without the permission of your homestay parent, and these calls are charged to the home telephone, you may be asked to move out of your homestay and pay an amount that will cover the cost of these phone calls. Please be considerate to your homestay family members about the use of the telephone and costs of telephone calls.

You may find it preferable to communicate with friends and family in your home country by using Skype or other free or inexpensive internet-based communication programs.

Since there are time differences between the U.S. and your country, you must tell your family and friends back home not to telephone you late at night when your homestay family is sleeping unless there is an emergency that cannot wait until morning. Your incoming telephone calls should not awaken and disturb your homestay family members.

Homestay Questions and Answers

Payment of Homestay Fees
All homestay fees are paid to ELS Language Centers (not to your homestay family). The Center pays the Homestay Coordinator who then pays your homestay family. Homestay families are paid at the time you enter the homestay and then again at each four-week session that you remain there.

How Will I Pay for Continuing Sessions in the Homestay?
You will pay the Registrar (Terri Lore) before the end of the current session for the next session homestay. If you have paid in your country for future homestay sessions, you must confirm to the Registrar that you will remain in your homestay, and ELS will arrange for that money to go to your homestay family.

May I Change my Homestay for the Next Session?
If there is a problem in the homestay that is determined to be the fault of the student, reassignment to another homestay will require an additional payment of a placement fee. If there is a problem in the homestay that is determined to be the fault of the homestay family and cannot be resolved, no additional placement fee will be charged. Such requests to change homestays are considered on a case-by-case basis, and you will be required to complete a form outlining the problem or reason you are wanting to change homestay.

May I Stay in My Homestay for Additional Nights? How Much Will it Cost?
If you wish to stay a few additional nights with your homestay family after your homestay ends and the homestay family agrees to accommodate you for that short time, there will be a nightly fee of $45 extra. In addition, your extra nights in the homestay must not displace any new student assigned to that homestay. If a new student is arriving to the homestay on the Sunday before the session begins, s/he must be given your room; therefore, you may be asked to move to another room for your extra nights.

In order to avoid crowding in a home by students who must stay a few days longer due to their airline flight reservations, ELS encourages you to move move to a hotel/motel.

May I Stay in the Homestay After I Stop My English Studies at ELS?
When you stop your English studies at ELS, we ask you to leave the homestay. Please do not try to make special arrangements with your homestay family to remain in their home. These homes are needed for new, incoming ELS students and causing your homestay to “go underground” by keeping you after ELS would make them ineligible to continue as an ELS Homestay.

If you leave ELS for more than one session and wish to return to the homestay program, you will have to reapply for a homestay. You may not receive the one you had previously unless prior arrangements are made before you leave. If you wish to take an authorized vacation from ELS for one session, you must speak with the Homestay Coordinator and Center Director of Admissions if you wish to return to your same homestay or a different one.

What are Homestay Evaluation Forms?
During the first week of each session, the ELS Internation Student Advisor (Ashley) will give you a homestay evaluation form to complete and return. Please fill out the evaluation form to tell us how you feel about the quality of your homestay. These forms are kept strictly confidential and can inform us of any problems you may be having in your homestay. Your comments are our primary source of information about your homestay and what you think about your homestay is important to us. We want only the best homes for our students and we pay attention to what your experience has been like.

What are Continuation/Termination Forms?
Near the end of each session you will be given a “Continuation” form to complete. The form asks you if you will continue your studies at ELS or if you will terminate or stop your studies at ELS. We also want to know if you will continue in your present accommodations (dormitory or homestay) or change to other accommodations. It is important that you return your completed form as soon as possible. If you say you will leave your homestay, the homestay Coordinator will assign another student to take your place. If you change your mind, you may not be able to remain in your homestay, so please, be very sure of your plans.

What do I do if I am Unhappy or Have Problems in My Homestay?
Talking with your friends at school about a homestay-related problem will not solve the problem. Please talk with the ELS International Student Advisor (Ashley), ELS Center Director (Nelson) or the Homestay Coordinator (Bill or Denny McConnell) if you have a homestay-related problem.

We are here to assist you with your problems or questions, and we want your stay during your studies at ELS to be a happy one. Your satisfaction in your homestay is very important to us!


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