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From Cape Town to the Cotswolds: how EduVacation mixes a unique English learning experience with the holiday of a lifetime

15 Jul

Learn English in the Cotswolds, the UK's largest "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty"

NetworkMilan is always happy to talk to people who have started their own business – especially entrepreneurs that are finding innovative and unusual ways to teach English (such as Lorna Allen of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd, who we interviewed last year). Today, we feature another homestay provider: EduVacation a small, privately-owned English language company that offers full immersion courses in the Cotswolds region of England.  (They also arrange English learning tours to Cape Town, South Africa.) The company was founded and is managed by Dean and Sue Erasmus, a married couple who are both qualified English-speaking school teachers with extensive teaching experience. (Both Dean and Sue love cooking and students can look forward to a barbecue – depending on the often-unpredictable British weather, of course!)

In this interview with NetworkMilan they describe the services they offer and explain why EduVacation is very different from studying at a typical language school. They also talk about their experience of welcoming Italian learners to the Cotswolds and discuss the unique benefits of being immersed in an English-speaking environment when you are learning the language.

Dean and Sue also agree to share their experiences and insights of running a business. They talk about what motivates them and describe some of the challenges they face as entrepreneurs. And they have some useful advice for anyone considering starting up a company.

Finally, Dean reveals that he once took part in a reality television programme on national TV in South Africa! Using his business skills, ingenuity and charisma, he had to compete for the top cash prize with a group of very determined contestants. Find out what happened in the end…

NM: Dean and Sue, welcome to NetworkMilan. Can you tell us about EduVacation?

Dean and Sue Erasmus

Dean and Sue Erasmus: We started EduVacation to provide learners of English as a foreign language with an experience where they can fully immerse themselves in the English language and enjoy a memorable holiday in the beautiful Cotswolds of England. If you don’t know it already, the Cotswolds region is situated in the southwest of England and is the country’s largest officially designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. A major tourist attraction, visited by thousands of tourists every year, the location is easily accessible by rail, road and air.

Most speakers of English as a foreign language have the basic skills to read, write and speak but lack the confidence to do so freely. Learners of English as a foreign language are often under pressure to learn English for various reasons and the process can become a negative experience. EduVacation uses a holiday format to provide a relaxed and friendly environment with lessons and activities designed to encourage our guests to feel at ease when practising their English language skills. Our courses are designed and presented to improve our guests’ fluency and confidence in the English language.

What services do you offer?

As an owner managed business, we are very flexible with regards to our courses and can tailor make a course/holiday to suit the requirements of corporate and private clients. We welcome prospective clients to contact us to discuss their specific needs.

We do, however, offer standard courses. These courses are designed according to the relevant English proficiency levels of each participant and group. They include:

Standard weekly English learning holiday in England:

• 6 nights with accommodation in Cotswolds holiday cottages including 3 meals a day

• Up to 40 hours of English lessons, related activities and daily cultural outings to popular Cotswolds tourist sights

• All coursework and the services of two qualified teachers

English learning tours to Cape Town, South Africa:

• All-inclusive, guided tours combining a 7 day holiday with a tailor-made immersive English programme

• All meals, accommodation, daily sightseeing tours, English lessons and activities, all entrance fees, transport, services of a knowledgeable guide and English teacher

Extra services can be offered or incorporated into our courses including:

•  Corporate training

• Introduction to working and living in the UK

• Team-building

• Business English and skills

• Student summer courses

• Weekend conversational courses

All our services are explained in more detail, by the way, on our website (www.eduvacation.co.uk) including examples of the themes and activities for our standard courses.

Family life and comfortable accommodation will help you to learn English in a relaxed environment

What makes EduVacation different from conventional language schools?

When we established EduVacation, our aim was to provide a service and concept that differed from the majority of those on offer in the UK. Let me explain the main differences that I believe set us apart from the majority of schools and services on offer:

Firstly, we offer fully immersive and all-inclusive English learning holidays:

  • We understand that it is very difficult for people to find the time to attend language courses in a different country so we decided to combine our courses with an all-inclusive holiday so that our clients get value for their money. The courses are suitable for groups of friends, family, colleagues or students.
  • We want our participants to hear, speak, read and write as much English as possible during their EduVacation course/holiday. We therefore instruct, teach, discuss and chat in English and encourage our participants to do the same. We want them to enjoy their experience and have a positive attitude towards learning and practising their English skills.
  • Our guests are accommodated in beautiful holiday cottages that we rent according to each group’s requirements. This means that, although the group is fully immersed in the English language and culture, they still have their own time and privacy in the evenings after the final meal or activity.

Personal attention and a professional approach

Secondly, we own the business: we are hands on managers and we present the courses ourselves:

  • Our guests and participants get our personal attention during their whole experience
  • We know exactly what service and level of professionalism our guests are experiencing as we provide it ourselves.
  • It is in our personal interest to provide a memorable experience for our clients
  • We can be flexible with regards to our clients’ requirements and needs
Finally, from our personal experience we understand fully what our clients as foreign language learners are experiencing
  • Sue and I both have a TEFL qualification. We are also both qualified school teachers with second language training experience.
  • I speak 3 languages including Italian and understand the challenges involved in acquiring a new language.
  • Both our sons are studying a variety of European languages and we understand exactly what they are experiencing.
  • We are well travelled as a family and have encountered many different cultures.
  • I have spent 15 years in corporate management and therefore I have a wealth of experience in training and business.

Why would someone who reads NetworkMilan be interested in booking a course with you?

With EduVacation you will be on "on the road to success"

Dean: I spent many years working in a corporate environment and travelling globally for business. I was constantly reminded by colleagues and clients of the need and importance of learning English as a foreign language.

EduVacation aims to provide an environment where our clients are encouraged to be confident and feel at ease when practising and improving their English language skills with teachers that understand the challenges that this involves.

EduVacation provides courses that a group of colleagues could attend or a family that want to improve their skills together. Our courses are suitable for a group of friends, a couple or a group of students. I also speak Italian and believe this would be helpful when dealing with Italian clients with basic proficiency levels and in general.

What experience do you have in dealing with Italian clients?

The Cotswolds will delight and charm Italian visitors

Dean: My love affair with Italy started almost 30 years ago when I spent a scholastic year in Italy as an AFS Intercultural Programs exchange student. The organisation is known as Intercultura in Italy. I lived as part of an Italian family in Ostia Lido outside of Rome and attended a year of Liceo Scientifico. I was completely immersed in the Italian culture and language for 10 months. We are still in constant touch with my Italian family and I had the opportunity 8 years ago of introducing my wife and sons to all the family on a holiday to Italy. Since then we have had numerous holidays to Italy and my love for the country, its people and culture is shared equally by my family.

The year I started my studies to become a teacher, I started working as a freelance tour guide in South Africa, registered with the South African Tourist Board and for the next 10 years on weekends and during school holidays, I escorted numerous groups of Italian tourists on guided tours of South Africa. I met many fantastic people and as the tours were exclusive, got to know and make friends with a variety of Italian visitors to South Africa, including Italian members of parliament, businessmen, honeymooners and families.

Cape Town and the stunning Table Mountain: a suitably dramatic backdrop to an incredible English course and a truly memorable holiday in South Africa

As a business, what opportunities and challenges do you face? (especially in the current economic climate?)

Our biggest challenge as a new business is marketing and presenting our company, services and concept to potential clients. This can become very expensive with no guarantee of ROI (Return on Investment).

Our concept is also quite different to the majority of English learning methods used in the UK, e.g. formal English schools and lessons, and it takes time for people to understand what we offer and how it is beneficial to their English learning journey.

The current economic climate is also a stumbling block to a business model such as ours as people and companies still understand the importance of learning English as a foreign language but are looking at ways to cut their costs. However, one of the reasons we structured our courses as they are, is so that people wanting a fully immersive experience can get value for their money by not only having a full day of lessons and activities but also an all-inclusive holiday as well at very competitive rates.

New direction? EduVacation's strategy is to make your English learning journey as effective as possible

What motivates you as entrepreneurs? Why did you choose the language education sector?

Dean: Anybody that is making money from a consumer whether it be private or corporate, should be striving to offer the best service, product and experience if they hope to be or continue to be a success.

Working for yourself enables you to be fully responsible for the success or failure of your business. Your personal effort will relate to your personal gain. I have always wanted to start my own business and particularly with my wife as we have different strengths and talents that we believe complement each other.

Making you feel at home: relax after an intensive day of studying and visiting places of interest

Being self-employed, especially, and establishing a business and concept from scratch, takes a lot of courage and faith. I have always given 100% to the roles I have previously held and felt that if I did the same for my own business, I would make a success of it. It also eventually gives you the opportunity of finding a good work/life balance.

I have been fortunate as I have worked as a teacher and also in the private sector in sales and marketing management. EduVacation gives me the opportunity to use my skills and experience in both fields for my own company. Working internationally and for multi-national companies and clients, I continually saw the necessity of learning English amongst my colleagues and clients and the idea for EduVacation was born from this experience.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs and startups?

Dean: Many people say that you should not give up your job to start your own business but do it as a sideline until you are established. This is good advice but not always practical. I tried but realised that if I wanted to make a success of EduVacation, I had to give it 100% of my time and effort.

My advice to entrepreneurs would be the following:

  • Research your sector well, both locally and internationally.
  • Try not to jeopardise your family and their well being by taking a huge risk with your assets – we are still experiencing a very unstable economic climate.
  • Take a calculated risk.
  • Believe completely in your business and concept.
  • Put in 100% effort into making it a success.
  • Don’t be proud – use contacts.
  • There are so many cost effective ways of building your business from website building to social networking sites.
  • Use all the negative experiences in your working life as learning opportunities for your own business.
  • Use any available time that you now have to pursue other opportunities that you have never had time for e.g. designing a product, writing a book or course, consulting, charity work, etc.

Dean and Sue are 100% focused on providing students with the best learning and holiday experience

We always like to find out if there’s anything unique or surprising about our guests on NetworkMilan. Anything you would like to share with our readers?

Dean: 9 years ago, I was working as the International Sales and Marketing Manager for a company in Cape Town. I applied as a contestant on a reality television programme on South African national TV. The programme, the Sanlam Money Game, was to promote entrepreneurship and was sponsored by one of South Africa’s leading financial services groups. [Editor’s note: The global Sanlam group includes Sanlam UK, a wealth management fund.]

The competitors were subjected to a comprehensive and rigorous selection process and assessed on everything from confidence, intellect, enthusiasm, ambition and the ability to express themselves. The focus was on outstanding entrepreneurship and thinking as far outside the box as possible.

Contestants were given an amount of money, dropped off somewhere in the country they were unfamiliar with, given three days to survive and make as much money as possible with their starting capital with a cameraman and monitor following them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Each week 3 contestants competed against each other – with the winner taking all. There were very strict rules including not dealing with any known contacts and certain trading challenges included.

I won my week and was in the top 3 money makers when the season ended resulting in a grand finale with the top three money makers competing against each other with double the starting capital and various extra challenges and rules. I ended up winning the final and being named the SMG Entrepreneur of the Year on national television and the prize being allowed to keep the profits made during trading. I believe that my success was due to excellent preparation, hard work, persistence, treating people with respect and keeping a sense of humour which are all traits I can carry over to EduVacation.

My only regret was that it was not in the UK or elsewhere as the hype at the time would have been a lot more lucrative I am sure!

Dean Erasmus: Reality TV show contestant and winner of the "Sanlam Money Game"

NetworkMilan: Dean and Sue, we really appreciate you taking the time to tell us all about EduVacation and your experiences as language entreprenuers (and TV star, Dean!). Thank you. We would like to wish you all the best and hope that you enjoy continued success with EduVacation.

Interview by Robert Dennis

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

If you would like to discover more about the benefits of a full-immersion English language course – as well as a Cotswolds (or Cape Town) holiday you’ll always remember – then visit the EduVacation website: http://www.eduvacation.co.uk/

You can also contact Dean and Sue Erasmus at EduVacation by phone, email or skype:

Tel: +44 (0) 1451 822 307

Mobile: +44 (0) 7810 442 470

Email: info@eduvacation.co.uk

Skype: suedean.erasmus

EduVacation: Talk it, experience it, live it!

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Lorna Allen of Live & Learn Homestays reaches finals of national business awards in UK

22 Oct

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd

MUMPRENEUR 2011 AWARD

BIRMINGHAM BASED “MUMPRENEUR” REACHES FINALS OF NATIONAL BUSINESS AWARDS
Local mum and entrepreneur, Lorna Allen, has earned herself a place in the final lineup of The Mumpreneur Awards, an annual ceremony aimed at celebrating parents throughout the UK who manage the difficult task of juggling business with family life.
The mother of 2 runs Live and Learn Homestays Ltd., an organisation offering personalised English courses and leisure activities to people visiting the Midlands region from abroad. Lorna’s customers (homestay guests) benefit from a full immersion experience where they are placed with host families and have the unique opportunity to improve their English skills and learn about British culture through sharing their host families’ lives.

Read the full story on the Live and Learn Homestays website. Click here.

Find out more about Lorna and Live & Learn Homestays. Read our interview here on Network Milan.

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Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays tells NetworkMilan.com how you can improve your English and feel at home in the “Heart of England”

02 Jun

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd

Live and Learn Homestays Ltd is a small English language homestay company based in Birmingham, the “Heart of England”, in the UK. The company is owned and managed by Lorna Allen, a local entrepreneur who worked part-time as a homestay tutor and local organiser for a large, international language homestay company for over seven years. Live and Learn Homestays combine high-quality language courses with friendly, welcoming accommodation in the tutor’s own home: a unique opportunity that allows students to not only learn English intensively, but also to experience family life right in the centre of Britain. With the option of trips to places of cultural interest, such as Stratford-upon-Avon (the birthplace of William Shakespeare), as well as visits to some of the loveliest countryside in the UK, a Live and Learn homestay is the ideal way to improve your English – and gain a valuable insight into “real life” in Britain.

In this interview with NetworkMilan.com, the online news magazine of the Milan Business English Network, Lorna explains some of the advantages and benefits of a language homestay. She also talks about how her background, how she started Live and Learn Homestays and why individual care and attention is key to the success of her business.

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, we know you’re busy at this time of year with people booking homestays. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd: You’re welcome! Yes, this is the run-up (approach) to our busiest period, but I’m happy to spare the time. And thanks for the opportunity to tell you about Live and Learn!

Birmingham in the "Heart of England" offers easy access to Stratford upon Avon and the Cotswolds and is full of history. It's also got some great shops!

Homestays

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, let’s start with a basic question: what is a homestay – and how is it different from a typical language school course?

Lorna Allen: That’s something I get asked all the time! A homestay is a unique opportunity for people to experience the language and culture of their host family in the most authentic way. Your host will welcome you as a guest into their home and share their family life with you, usually for 1 – 4 weeks.

A homestay normally includes full board accommodation in a private bedroom (meals are taken with your host family), local cultural excursions and a chance to participate in frequent activities such as pub lunches, trips to the theatre or cinema, shopping and so on.

As well as enjoying a stay with your host family, you can expect your English speaking and listening skills to improve as our host families will only communicate with you in English!

If you want to make even more progress with your English language skills, we can arrange private English lessons either with your host or a teacher who will visit you, at your convenience, to deliver your lessons.

We can also add a variety of leisure activities to your homestay such as English cookery (yes, really!), golf, horse riding, English crafts and jewellery making, and fishing, etc.

Homestays are suitable for people of all ages and language abilities (except for complete beginners). So far, our youngest homestay guest has been 12 years old and our oldest 75 years old!

I would say that the biggest difference between our homestay English courses and typical English language courses is that, by being placed with a native English-speaking host family in England, learners are isolated from their mother tongue and so make much more rapid progress with their English language skills. There is no alternative, really: you have to speak in English!

All of this is achieved by offering an authentic British context in which to “Live and Learn” English!

The Cotswolds: just one of the beautiful places you can visit during your homestay (Photo: David Iliff)

If you attend a typical English course at an institution, such as a language school, you will be encouraged to communicate in English during the lesson. But  as soon as the lesson is over learners usually just go back to speaking their mother tongue – especially if you’re with other Italian students!

With a homestay, it’s completely different: as a learner, you will not only be engaging in conversation with your host/teacher – you will also do things like watch English TV together, listen to the radio in English and talk about the content – so you will constantly be learning and practicing new vocabulary and grammar.

Another benefit of a homestay English course is that you have the opportunity to receive individual attention (reassuring for learners who are afraid of making mistakes with their spoken English in a class). And, of course, you get lots of opportunities to hear the language being spoken by native speakers in both formal situations (especially during lessons) and in relaxed, informal situations, for example, conversations at mealtimes or in the pub.

Toni, a Swiss Live and Learn guest and student, enjoys a pint of English beer at the Barton Arms pub

Courses

NetworkMilan.com: What sort of courses do you offer and how are they organized?

Lorna Allen: OK, so we offer a number of English courses. First of all, there’s our general English course. This is aimed at learners of all ages and abilities. It includes lots of speaking practice as well as grammar, vocabulary, writing and comprehension in English.  Then we’ve got our exam preparation course. This one is aimed at young adults or older learners who want study for an exam and it’s taught by our more experienced teachers. This course focuses on practice for exams such as IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge CAE. Finally, there’s our English for work course, which is aimed at professionals who wish to improve their communication skills for business and work in general. You will learn how to use the phone, write emails, and give great presentations. And you will also learn the art of making small talk (informal conversation) after work, too!

All of our courses include a diagnostic test (to assess your level) and an agreed number of hours of private English tuition per week (10, 15 or 20). You will also receive a certificate of attendance.

All lessons are delivered at the host’s home – so you won’t need to travel far to the class!

The first day is spent discussing your language requirements and administering the diagnostic test. Our teachers are all qualified (at least to degree level and most with an additional English language teaching qualification, such as the Cambridge CELTA).

You can decide exactly when you want to have your lessons, but we suggest having them on a weekday (Monday to Friday) – and then your weekends are free for sight-seeing, shopping etc.

NOTE: To see a sample timetable of a Live and Learn Homestay, click here.

Birmingham's Council House is a fine example of the city's 19th century municipal architecture.

Hosts / Teachers

NetworkMilan.com: Who are the hosts/teachers?  Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Lorna Allen: Our teachers are all native English-speakers and qualified at least to degree level (laureati). Where learners want more specialised teaching, such as for exam preparation, we use teachers who have additional English language teaching qualifications.

Most of our hosts are also able to teach English, but if the host isn’t qualified we will send a teacher to the home to give lessons to the learner at the time they choose.

Our hosts and teachers come from a variety of backgrounds and professions; we have school teachers, lawyers, social workers – quite a diverse range, really.

One thing that they all have in common, however, is their love of people and their desire to learn about different cultures.

When you stay in a homestay, learning really becomes a two-way process. On the one hand, you are learning about British culture – but on the other, your host will be very enthusiastic to hear about the customs and culture in your country.

Our hosts are very special to me and I personally choose each one by visiting them in their homes and assessing their suitability to host guests from abroad.

During these visits, I also speak to other members of the family to see if they are happy with the idea of sharing their family life with a homestay guest.

When I recruit new hosts, I look for a warm welcome;  a clean, comfortable home; qualifications (if the host is teaching); and a valid CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate if they are hosting children.

My team of host families have become my friends. We meet socially and they know I’m only a telephone call away if they need to contact me.

Two young Italian learners enjoy a canoeing expedition in the “Heart of England”

Birmingham and the “Heart of England”

NetworkMilan.com: Can you tell us a little about Birmingham and the surrounding area?

Lorna Allen: Birmingham is a fabulous place to live and work. I was born here and moved to London as a teenager,  but I came back home to Birmingham 17 years ago.

After London, Birmingham is considered by many as England’s second city – and it has a rich cultural and industrial heritage. (Birmingham was known as the “workshop of the world” during the 19th century and was the cradle (culla) of the Industrial Revolution.) The city has recently benefited from substantial regeneration and investment and offers a world-class cultural scene as well as superb shopping. (The Bullring shopping centre, home of the ultra-modern Selfridges department store, is a must-see.)

Inspired by a Paco Rabanne sequin dress, the Bullring is home to Selfridges, Vivienne Westwood, Yo Sushi! and Starbuck's Coffee.

Birmingham is a really convenient location for visitors: it’s located in the “Heart of England”, and is easy to reach since it’s at the centre of England’s road and rail network. There are also easy connections with international airports at Birmingham and Coventry.

All our hosts enjoy taking their homestay guests on excursions to places such as the Cotswolds – a beautiful part of the English countryside featuring honey-coloured villages with limestone cottages. You can also visit historic Stratford-upon-Avon, where the greatest poet in the English language, William Shakespeare, was born.

Shakespeare's House in Stratford upon Avon. The author of Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer's Night Dream was born and grew up here.

Our younger homestay guests particularly enjoy visiting the most famous chocolate factory in the world after Willy Wonka’s own fictional manufacturing works. Cadbury World offers a unique experience that includes 14 zones including the history of the Bournville Cadbury factory, an Aztec Forest zone, the chance to ride through a chocolate wonderland on a Beanmobile – and even to write your name in liquid chocolate with the help of an experienced demonstrator. Young guests / learners will also enjoy Birmingham’s state-of-the-art (high tech) Thinktank science museum with over 200 exhibits you can actually touch – as well as a Planetarium and an IMAX cinema.

With a highly-respected education programme, Cadbury World is one of Birmingham's largest attractions with 500,000 visitors each year.

Older visitors will love Soho House, the elegant 18th century home of industrialist and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton – and the meeting place of some of the greatest minds of the time. And if you’re a shopaholic, you’ll love Birmingham’s world-class Jewellery Quarter, which combines traditional and innovative jewellery designers and shops with a wealth of historic churches, art galleries and museums.

Soho House: Carefully restored, this fashionable Georgian house features period interiors with fine collections of silver, furniture and paintings.

If you want to experience the Great Outdoors and get some fresh air, you can visit the breathtaking (mozzafiato) English landscape of the Malvern Hills – a “mountain range in miniature”. And don’t forget Birmingham’s rich tradition of ancient and modern cathedrals.

I often give homestay guests a tour of Birmingham city centre and they are surprised to hear that Birmingham has more canals than Venice!

Walk along the towpath (alzaia) of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, which links two great cities - and enjoy the countryside (and pubs)

Italian guests / learners

NetworkMilan.com: Have there been many Italian students at Live and Learn? What would you say to Italian people considering going to the UK for a homestay?

Lorna Allen: We have had many homestay guests from Italy, most coming from Milan.

We’ve had children who are now coming for the third consecutive year as well as adults who want to improve their English and experience British culture.

Our Italian guests gain a great deal of benefit from our homestays as they tend to be very interested in learning about the British way of life.

They are also keen to become integrated into their host family’s life – and I know that they are particularly curious about English food!

There is a perception that English food is quite bland (scialbo) and, while this can be true in a few instances, many English people have travelled widely and so have been influenced by other cuisines. Britain also benefits from having a wide diversity of ethnic cultures, each of which has enriched British food generally.

Our supermarkets now sell foods such as extra-virgin olive oil, fresh pasta and real coffees which means that you can still eat your favourite foods even if you don’t really like English cuisine (although we think we can change your opinion!).

Birmingham is also home to some very fine restaurants and pubs serving fantastic “pub-grub” (pub food) – so there is lots of choice available. I have personally taken some of my Italian homestay guests to Caribbean and Indian restaurants so that they can sample dishes (piatti) that may not be easily available back home.

Nicola, one of our Italian learners, visiting the Motor Museum with his host Pat

Young learners

NetworkMilan.com: You said that you organise homestays for young people. What assurances can you give parents that children will be happy and safe?

Lorna Allen: I really enjoy arranging homestays for young people and I’m pleased when they come back for a second and even a third visit!

There is no fixed minimum age limit but I ask that the child or young person is mature enough to enjoy their stay away from home. There is no advantage in a child coming if they are going to be very unhappy and home-sick for the duration of their stay!

I am a mother of two children myself so I know the importance of ensuring that young people enjoy a happy and safe homestay with us.

Parents can be reassured that we will take total care of their children and this care begins with the selection of suitable host families.

When host families express an interest in hosting young people, I ensure that they have a valid CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate. The CRB is a ‘police check’ (controllo) to ensure that the applicant does not have any record of offences against children.

I take photos of the host, their family and home and send them to the parents so that they can see exactly what the family and home looks like before sending their children.

I should mention that homestay fees for young people include an “extra-care supplement” and this guarantees that the young person is always supervised by the host or an adult member of the host’s family.

Once the homestay booking has been confirmed, I then send parents the host’s contact details so that they can get in touch (communicate) and get to know each other (become acquainted) before their child’s arrival.

When the young person arrives in the UK, either I or the host family will collect them from the airport and, on the return journey, we will stay with them until the airline staff take over responsibility.

I will telephone the young person 2 or 3 days after their arrival to check if they are happy in their homestay. (I ask the host to leave the room so that the young person can speak freely). I also visit all young people during their homestay and report back to their parents.

Alex, a young learner, improves his writing skills - evidently inspired by William Shakespeare!

Lorna’s story

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started Live and Learn?

Lorna Allen: Well, I was born in Birmingham in the UK to Jamaican parents. I have two children, aged 21 and 17 and have enjoyed a long and varied career working to support children and their families.

About ten years ago, I was approached by a hosting company to host and teach foreign learners. I did that for a while and then I became a local organiser for the company.

I continued doing this for over seven years as a way to supplement my earnings from my main job.

It was a Japanese client who suggested that I started my own company as he was very pleased with the way that I had made arrangements for his group of Japanese students.

Hosting learners and, some time later, organising their homestays, gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I learned about their culture – and it was great for my children too, as they both went on to study languages at high school. I’m sure it was the hosting experience that motivated them to learn other languages!

I also gained a lot of satisfaction from seeing people progress very quickly with their English language skills after their two week homestay in Birmingham.

So, after a great deal of thought and discussion with family and friends, I took the bold step (made the courageous decision) of leaving work. I left in July 2007 and launched ‘Live and Learn Homestays Ltd.’ in April 2008.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays, with learner Mauro

Business success

NetworkMilan: What do you think makes a successful business? And what are your plans for the future?

Lorna Allen: What makes a successful business? Mm – difficult question. Well, I suppose at the heart of any successful business is a person who is willing and able to take risks; a person who has the ability to communicate his or her passion for the business; a hard worker who leads with integrity; a team player; and a person who knows that, in business, “failure” is just another word for opportunity!

In the near future, I will be updating my website and adding our new leisure and cultural activities such as English cookery, jewellery-making, fascinator workshops (where you can learn how to make a fascinator, as worn by Kate Middleton – or the Duchess of Cambridge as she is now known!). We are also offering sports camps for young people, as well as fishing and canal trips. We will be adding even more activities in the future (so make sure you visit our website to find out what we’ve got to offer!).

I am also working on plans to develop our services so that we can take small groups of young people. I have been approached by an outdoor education centre and they have the facilities to accommodate small groups and offer an exciting leisure and English language package. So, if any of your readers would like more information for small groups of school-age learners who want to come to the UK in the summer or at Easter, please contact me at Live and Learn Homestays Ltd.

Many people have asked whether I’d consider expanding the business to offer homestays all around the UK. Whilst I’m sure there is plenty of scope (possibility) for expansion, I’d rather keep things local as by offering homestays within the “Heart of England” region, I can keep a close eye on (watch carefully) the quality of the service that we’re offering. The sad truth is that there are too many homestay companies out there that take your money and don’t care about the experience that you’ve paid for – and I never want to be like that!

Inspiration: view from the Malvern Hills, a “mountain range in miniature”, and within easy reach of Birmingham.

Booking your homestay

NetworkMilan.com: How can people book a Live and Learn homestay – and how much does it cost?

Lorna Allen: People can book their homestay through our website or just email me with your requirements and I will send you a booking form (modulo di prenotazione).

An average stay is two weeks in length and the price depends on the kind of homestay booked (for example, with or without English lessons) the number of hours of English tuition, the age of the homestay guest and leisure activities required, etc.

As a guide, a two week homestay starts from £220 (€250) per week and this includes half board accommodation (bed, breakfast and dinner) during the week and full board (bed, breakfast, lunch and dinner) at the weekend – this option is more suited to people who wish to spend only part of the day with their host family.

This represents excellent value for money especially when compared to a hotel room where accommodation (without meals) will cost from £65 per night – and you don’t have the benefit of interacting with a lovely host family!

St Phillip's Cathedral in Birmingham, a city with a rich architectural, industrial and cultural heritage.

The Live and Learn difference

NetworkMilan: There are a number of companies and individual tutors now offering homestays. What would you say makes Live and Learn different?

Lorna Allen: OK, firstly, I’m proud to say that we are different!

I know that we are different because many of our homestay guests have experience of booking homestays with other companies and they say we’re not like the others!

Also, our host families and teachers work for a number of companies – and they say that we’re special too!

I think the most important thing that distinguishes us is that we really care about our learners and homestay guests. We make sure that you have the best experience from the very first moment that you contact us to the time that you step foot on (enter) the plane to go home!

We endeavour to match guests with a host/teacher as quickly as possibly – usually within a few days. It can sometimes take a little longer as we strive (try very hard) to make sure that everyone has the most suitable host/teacher.

As a business owner and manager, it is vitally important to me to gain the feedback of every single homestay guest and so I maintain contact with all guests during their stay. They also have access to 24-hour telephone support in the unlikely event of an emergency.

I visit all of my younger homestay guests to make sure that they are enjoying their stay. I will often visit the adults too and we may go out for a meal in Birmingham or a tour of the city together. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find out about their homestay experience and they sometimes give me great ideas for improving the service that we offer!

Our homestay guests tell me that they have never received such a high quality, personal service from the other companies that they have used and this is why they return year after year.

Our hosts/teachers enjoy working with us because they feel get lots of support and are able to contact me at any time to ask for advice.

They also enjoy the fact that guests see their host/teacher profile and photographs before booking and are able to communicate with their guest before they arrive. This helps avoid any problems or confusion and goes a long way (is important) to ensuring that the homestay is both enjoyable and successful.

A number of homestay guests have invited me to stay with them in their own countries. So far I’ve been too busy, but I may well take them up on (accept) their offers later this year.

It would be great to be a homestay guest in another country and this time it would be my turn to “Live and Learn”!

Lorna Allen: "Live and Learn Homestays offers a high quality, personal service. This is why our guests return year after year."

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, you’ve certainly provided us and our readers with a lot of really interesting and useful information about language homestays. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We wish you and your tutors all the best – and hope that Live and Learn Homestays Ltd will continue to grow and provide a valuable and truly unique service to all of your guests.

Lorna Allen: You’re very welcome – and thanks to you, too, for giving me the opportunity of telling people in your network about Live and Learn . If anyone wants to find out about our homestays, please get in touch with me and I will tell you everything you need to know. See you in Birmingham soon!

Contact Live and Learn

If you would like to know more about Live and Learn Homestays Ltd and how you can both improve your English as well as experience family life with a professional, friendly host /teacher in the UK, please contact Lorna Allen (info@homestay-online.com). She will be very happy to give you all the information you need and to organise a homestay that is ideally suited to your needs.

Visit the Live and Learn Homestays website:
http://www.homestay-online.com/

© Robert Dennis, NetworkMilan.com 2011

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