Homestay Handbook

We have witnessed many successful homestay experiences and learned from these wonderful homestay parents. We have gathered their good tips into a handbook that we hope will be useful.

This little guidebook will not answer all your unique questions, but hopefully it will answer some of the common ones. This basic information will make your hosting experience more rewarding. It includes tips on how to prepare for your student , how to orient the student to your home, cultural considerations, tips related to cooking and meal times, effective communication, and other information.

We encourage you to share this handbook with the members of your family. If you would like a copy of the handbook in booklet form, please contact us. Happy hosting!


Welcome to the Canadian International Services (CIS) Homestay Experience. Thank you for becoming a homestay family. We hope this experience will be an enriching one for your whole family. In the great majority of cases, hosts speak of how much their Japanese guest has added to their family life and how much they have benefited from the opportunity.

We have witnessed many successful homestay experiences and these wonderful homestay parents. We have gathered up their good tips into a handbook that we hope will be useful. This little guidebook will not answer all your unique questions, but hopefully it will answer some of the common ones. This basic information will make your hosting experience more rewarding.

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The Homestay Experience

By welcoming someone from another culture into your home, you enrich your whole family’s life in a unique way. You become the student’s family away from home and, as such, you play a most important role in their young lives. Their parents trust you to act as parents in their stead. The appreciation of the Japanese parents cannot be underestimated. If you ever get to meet them, you will know how much they value your role. Think about it. Would you send your teenage son or daughter to Japan to live with a family that you have never met? It really takes great trust on their part and, in turn, great responsibility on yours.

The experience often leads to real connections between cultures. The positive nature of this experience can only be enhanced by taking a little time to prepare yourself with some knowledge of the customs of Japan. The students love it when you show some interest in their culture or try a few words in their language (refer to the end of this handbook for some common phrases and words). Often, participating in the homestay experience leads to a lasting interest in Japan. Frequently, the students stay in touch with their homestay families for years.

Because you are acting as their ‘parents away from home’ you will at times be required to show the same patience, understanding and flexibility of all good parents. You will also need an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude as you deal with teenagers who have been raised in a culture quite different from our own. Your children, if at home, also play an important role in making these young people feel welcome and part of the family.

After several years of meeting homestay families, we are continually amazed at how wonderful the families are that choose to welcome a student into their homes.

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Preparing for Your Visitor

It is best to get everything organized as much as possible before your student arrives. The student must have their own room and it is best if they can have their own desk at which to do homework, with a reading lamp and space for their personal effects.

Whatever arrangement that you make for them at the start of their stay should be maintained without change for their whole stay. Moving them into another room part way through their stay would be upsetting to them.

Wherever possible, the student’s bedroom should be above ground. While Canadians are used to bedrooms below ground, Japanese students will feel slighted if they are given a room below ground.

It may sound unnecessary, but reviewing your family’s routines can be a very useful preparation. Over a number of days, closely examine all the routines your family follows. You will be surprised at how many routines you have that you take for granted, but which will have to be introduced to the arriving student. Do you usually take off your shoes at the door? Do you have set days when you do the laundry? What about helping in the kitchen? This review can be used to ensure that you do not forget to tell your student anything.

Making a welcome sign or a banner before your student arrives will help them feel welcome. A small gift is also appreciated. It can be something simple like a Canadian t-shirt or baseball hat. Usually the student will give a gift to the host family when he or she arrives.

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Anticipation is high on both the students’ and the parents’ sides as the bus nears the meeting place. Make sure you are on time as it would be a disappointment for the student to be left standing waiting for you as others go home. The students will be nervous and very tired from their trip, but they will also be very excited to be finally meeting you. Avoid hugs and just welcome them with a handshake. Keep things simple at the initial meeting. Introduce yourself, help them with their luggage and don’t linger too long before heading home.

At home, make more introductions if other members of the family have not gone to pick them up. If you have a pet, try to ensure that it doesn’t greet them by barking and jumping. Often Japanese students do not have pets of their own and are quite nervous about animals. Reassure them about your pet’s habits so that they are not too startled. Show them their room and the bathroom and where to put their luggage. Leave the tour of the house for the next day.

Offer them something light to eat so that small gifts can be exchanged while tea and cookies or pop and popcorn are shared. Let the students get to bed quickly to start their recovery from the long flight. Be sure that you give them towels and that they know how to use the bathtub and/or shower. They may be used to bathing in a different way and will need to have you show them how your shower and bath works (see more on this topic in ‘Orientation to Your Home’).

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Orientation to Your Home

Your student may be inclined to sleep very late because of jet lag. If the school program has a class or activity scheduled for the first thing in the morning, make sure your student has an alarm clock set for the right wake-up time.

Later your student will be ready to find out about your house. Giving them a tour will help them feel at home and also give them some understanding of the routines of your household. When you take them through the house, be sure to tell them what they can use and what is out of bounds. Do you feel comfortable with them using the television and other electronics whenever they wish? If there are limits to their use, let them know.

This is the time to show them each room in the house, pointing out different items in each room, how they work and if they can use them. Some homestay parents even use this as an opportunity for a fun English lesson by taping pieces of paper with the English words on each of the items.

Do not assume the student will know how everything works. Demonstrate how to use the stove, oven and microwave in the kitchen. Some homestay parents allow the students to help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator at any time and others would like them to ask when they need something to eat or drink. If you allow them to help themselves to food and drink in the refrigerator, you will probably have to indicate several times that it is alright to do so.

Bathroom routines may also need to be demonstrated. Even flushing the toilet and showing how to turn on the shower is a good idea. Make sure you also tell them that when they take a shower that the shower curtain must be on the inside of the bathtub. In Japanese homes, the shower is often taken in an open room with the water running into a drain. This difference in bathroom routines has led to several hosts finding water all over the floor because the student did not know any better.

Tell them about laundry routines. Some parents want the students to do their own laundry, while others would prefer to include the student’s wash with the family’s. Some students may be shy about handing over their clothes to be washed by someone other than their mother and would prefer to wash their own undergarments. Try to convey to them if you want them to do their own laundry and be sure to show them exactly how to do it. You might put in a load while they are being shown around so that they can learn how to operate the washer and dryer.

Finishing your tour in the family room is a good idea because then they can be included in any family activities that are going on. Watching television and discussing the program is always a way to include the students in family activities and help them to practice their English at the same time. Some students may tend to hide in their bedrooms, especially early in their stay, and, while you want to respect their privacy, on the other hand this is not the best way to learn English. You will have to find the middle ground between letting them have their time alone and not allowing them to hibernate in their room.

Remember that your student’s room becomes theirs once they have arrived. Their privacy should be respected and all members of the family should knock on the door, not just barge in. This may be especially difficult for younger members of the family if they have had to vacate their room for the student. At the same time, the homestay student should be expected to keep their room in the manner in which the homestay parents expect. Make it clear to them if you want the bed made and clothes picked up. You may even have to teach your student how to make their own bed. In Japan, the traditional bed is a futon that is folded up each morning and put aside.

If you are more tolerant of a messy room, the door can be kept closed, but they should be expected to keep their room the same as your children keep theirs. This may be a new experience for many Japanese students and they may need some encouragement to learn the ‘Canadian way.’

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Meal Time

Students should know at what times meals will be served. Most Japanese students will enjoy the western food served to them. They have become used to hamburgers and other fast food served in the restaurants in Japan and will enjoy trying different foods in Canada. Expecting them to eat whatever your family is accustomed to is best, with the exception of some students who may not eat pork or others who do not eat meat at all. Japanese people are used to having lots of fresh vegetables and so it is a good idea to always include these in meals.

Some students in the past have found it especially difficult to communicate about getting the right amount of food. This can be a tricky area. These students have refused second helpings out of politeness, and later complained to their advisors that they are not getting enough to eat. On the other hand, some students have complained that the homestay parents expect them to eat too much.

There is a fine line between offering too little and offering too much. Remember that your student does not like to say “no” as they feel it is rude. Oh the other hand, it is typical in Japan to ask your guest a second time if they would like more to eat if they did not accept more upon the first offer. If they still do not want food the second time, then you know they are finished.

Also, the oldest person at the table starts to eat first, so don’t tell your student to go ahead and start before the homestay mother or father.

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Communicating Effectively

Although Japanese students learn English in school, do not expect them to be able to converse fluently with you. Their English classes have focused on writing the language, learning grammar points and preparing for exams. They will have had little experience in speaking the language and may be quite shy about speaking.

Speak clearly and slowly to the students. If they do not understand, repeat the sentence more slowly, but not more loudly. They are not hard of hearing. If your student continues having difficulty with certain phrases or questions, try wording them differently. Often, writing your sentence down will help them to understand as their understanding of written English is better than their comprehension of spoken English.

Many students will have small electronic translators, which they use to look up the meaning of unfamiliar words. You might want to learn how to use this translator so that they can type in English words to get the Japanese equivalent. After all, the student can’t enter the word in English if they don’t know how to spell it.

The students spend each morning in English class, but the homestay plays a huge role in improving their English ability. Therefore it is important that the students hear English that is clear and correct. It is easy to fall into incorrect speech patterns when you are trying to speak simply, but you can speak in simple sentences and still be correct.

Facing the student while speaking will also promote understanding. Be as direct and open as possible. If you are having a problem with your student, try to discuss it openly and courteously without raising your voice. If a communication problem persists, contact the chaperone or homestay manager.

Be patient. English is such a difficult language to learn and you will have to get used to repeating yourself. Imagine trying to learn Japanese and you will appreciate their difficulty.

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Internet Use

Almost all students will bring an electronic device that connects to the internet. They will want to communicate with their parents and friends in Japan. So if you have wifi in your home, give them your password so they can connect to the internet. If you have limited data on your plan, make this clear to your student so they will not use your connection excessively. You may want to impose time restrictions on internet use.

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Problem Solving

Open communication is most important to make the homestay experience successful for both parents and students. If you are annoyed by something the student does, do not suffer in silence. Usually the student is completely unaware that anything is the matter. Be courteous, calm and direct. Do not raise your voice. If you do not want them to do something, tell them.

Make sure your student understands what is being explained to them. Have your student repeat procedures after you have given them an example. Write it down to aid understanding.

Be ready to listen and let your student know that they can talk to you at any time. It will take them some time to be comfortable with you, but the more patient and open with them you are, the quicker they will be able to feel at home.

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Health Care

All students have health insurance that has been arranged before they arrive in Canada and takes effect immediately upon arrival. If students require medical care, please inform the chaperone or homestay manager right away. They will help you provide the necessary care. Homestay parents should not provide medications to students without first consulting with the chaperone or homestay manager.

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Cultural Considerations 

There are a number of cultural differences between Japan and Canada to consider that will help you avoid uncomfortable situations. Japan’s overcrowding through the centuries has meant that extreme = rituals of politeness and manners have evolved to mitigate the stresses of living so closely. Proper behavior and consideration of the group are extremely important.

This more formal and polite culture will mean that your student may seem very reserved and shy upon arrival. Eye contact is not the norm and in conversation the Japanese remain farther apart physically than do North Americans. They are used to bowing in Japan and, although they will know to shake hands, they would be overwhelmed by a welcoming hug. Even within their own families there is very little touching, so the pats on the back and friendly hugs that we are used to in Canada should probably not be extended until they show that they are more comfortable with that degree of ‘touchiness.’

A smile can mean pleasure, but it can also be a means of self-control, as when it is used to hide displeasure or embarrassment. So try to keep calm in a difficult situation and do not raise your voice. Self-control and calmness are always respected.

Japanese feel a pressure to conform. This may mean that it will be difficult to get a direct answer. They do not like to say anything that may offend another person. Often they are trying to figure out what your opinion is so that they can agree with you. Try to avoid questions that will put them on the spot, and instead have discussions that leave opportunity for them to share ideas with you.

For the same reason they do not like to answer ‘no’. This needs to be kept in mind when asking them if they want to go to a certain place. They may say “yes,” not because they want to go there, but because of the way the question was phrased, they feel that they have to say “yes.” Try to avoid questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”.

Buddhism and Shinto are the major religions in Japan with 1% of the population practicing Christianity. As religion is more a matter of culture and secularism is predominant, do not force your student into attending religious services. Make your invitation to attend church open enough that they do not feel that they have to go in order not to offend you.

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Interesting Facts About Japan

  • Japan is made up of four main islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Total area is 378,000 square kilometres. (Ontario is 1,076,395 sq. km and Canada is 9,984,000 sq. km.)
  • The population of Japan is 130 million. The greater Tokyo area has a population of 35 million, about the same as all of Canada. (The population of Ontario is 13.5 million.)
  • The time difference between Japan and Niagara is 13 hours. For example at 6:00 p.m. in Niagara it is 7:00 a.m. the next day in Japan.
  • The Yen is the Japanese currency and the current exchange rate is roughly 1 Cdn$ = 84 Yen.
  • All the common North American fast food restaurants are in Japan like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Starbucks.
  • North American movies and music are widely enjoyed in Japan.
  • Japanese text can be written in three distinctive forms: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katagana.
  • Fine writing of characters, calligraphy, is prized as an art, along with the other arts of Ikebana and Origami. Ikebana, or flower arranging, is famous throughout the world, and origami, paper folding, is taught to all young children.
  • The martial arts of judo, kendo, and karate have Japanese origins.
  • ‘Juku’, or private cram schools, are very common in Japan. Students go to these schools on weekends, after school, and during holidays to prepare for entrance exams into elementary school, high school, and university.
  • University is very relaxed for students. They have worked hard during elementary and high school and once they have made it into the university of their choice socializing and partying consume much of their time.
  • Baseball and golf have become increasingly popular in Japan. Baseball is a popular sport at most Japanese schools.
  • Students spend considerable time getting to and from school and it is common for them to have one to two hour commutes to and from school daily. This is even with the speedy bullet trains that cover the whole country.

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Helpful Japanese Phrases/Words

Trying to speak a few words of Japanese will impress your students and they will enjoy teaching you any phrases that you would like to learn. Showing an interest in their language, like showing a curiosity about their culture, will be appreciated by the students.

Yes Hai (pronounced “hi”)
Good morning Ohayo (pronounced ‘Ohio’)
Good afternoon Konnichiwa
Good evening Konbanwa
Hello Konnichiwa
How are you? Genki deska?
I am fine Genki des
Nice to meet you Hajimemashte
My name is Watashi no namae wa____desu
Goodbye Sayonara
Thank you Domo arrigato gozaimas (or simply Domo)
Please Kudasai
Excuse me Sumimasen (also used to get a person’s attention)
Sorry Gomenasai

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"It seems the key to an enjoyable experience is being warm and friendly. We take a grocery shopping trip with them to choose what they like to eat and show that we are interested in listening to them.  It is fun learning about their country’s history and the way they live, and even finding their home on Google Maps."

Al and Lorraine Tutti
Homestay Family


"In addition to enjoying the students we continue to host because this program is well run due to good communication, attention to detail and organization.  The whole experience has been a pleasure.”

The Fundytus Family
Homestay Family


"Our first student Chikara, who stayed with us in 2009, was quite unique in keeping a correspondence going with us 2-3 times a year. In 2015 he requested a return visit, and came on his own to our home to celebrate his 21st birthday with us. This was so special and rewarding to us."

Al and Lorraine Tutti
Homestay Family


"It has been a great experience hosting Japanese students in our home for the past three summers. We've had the privilege of learning their culture through their examples and photos from home. The highlights were eating unique Japanese pizza, showing them the beauties of the Niagara area, and visiting Ridley College to see the talent show they created during their stay."

Mike and Melissa Nieciecki

“My host family was very kind and fun. I would like to visit them again!”



“We have been a host family for the past eight years and have enjoyed each and every student.  They are wonderful house guests.  Our own boys are grown now but we found this to be an educational and enriching experience for them and ourselves also.”

The Fundytus Family
Homestay Family


"With our participation in this program we have made international friends with the students and their families, and hope to someday see them all again. Every child leaves with an invitation to return at any time in the future to visit alone or with families, we keep in contact with most of them."

Alan and Marianna Northeast
Homestay Family


“We have been a host family for the past eight years and have enjoyed each and every student.  They are wonderful house guests.  Our own boys are grown now but we found this to be an educational and enriching experience for them and ourselves also.”

The Fundytus Family
Homestay Family


"Family outings were eagerly enjoyed with our adult children and our grandchildren, such as picnics with outdoor games, swimming and beach time, and even one of our granddaughter’s soccer games."

Al and Lorraine Tutti
Homestay Family