In response to the RTBF investigation into language holidays with EF

RTBF recently published an investigation into language holidays organised by EF (Education First), a major player in the field of international cultural immersion. The article highlights the disappointing experiences of students who went abroad with EF, full of hopes for an enriching adventure. Unfortunately, their expectations were not met.

These stories, revealing the sometimes bitter realities of these stays, have a demoralising effect on many future students who aspire to an unforgettable experience abroad.

Beyond the impact on individuals, these stories cast a shadow over the entire language study abroad sector, affecting other Belgian organisations in the field, including our own organisation and our friends at the Belgian competition.

How do things work at Easy Languages?

At Easy Languages, we don’t have a sales department or salespeople. We have student advisers. They take calls, answer emails and deal personally with each student before, during and after their experience abroad.

If a concern arises, it’s the person who spoke to the parents on the phone, who conducted the interviews with the student, and who knows the student by name, who is responsible for communicating with the host family, the school and the local correspondents to find out what’s going on.

In other words: our commitment is sincere.

The role of host families in language study holidays

When we talk about language travel, we often think first of learning a foreign language. However, the heart of these language travels often lies in the time spent with the host family. In many cases, they are the ones who transform a simple study abroad into a human adventure that lasts through the years.

Their role goes far beyond providing a bed and meals; they offer a second family, a home away from home, and a genuine insight into their way of life. It is this genuine, warm and human experience that makes all the difference to many of our students.

The family vetting process and how we work

Selecting host families is a crucial aspect of our programme, and we take this responsibility very seriously. This process is not just about finding accommodation for our students, but about ensuring that they have a safe and rewarding experience.

First of all, it is important to stress that the choice of host families is made locally by our partner schools. These schools, rooted in their communities, know which areas are safe and which families are reliable. This local knowledge is essential to guarantee not only safety, but also the quality of the student’s experience.

An integral part of our process is the ongoing collection of feedback. Before, during and after the stay, the schools (and we ourselves) collect feedback from our students on their experiences with the host family. This method allows us to ensure constant improvement and to respond quickly to any needs or concerns.

It is essential to understand that hosting our students is not meant to be seen as a business. Although compensation is (usually) provided to host families, this is in most cases to cover accommodation costs.

Our partners have long-standing relationships with a network of host families. These long-standing links are a testament to the reliability and quality of the experience offered. Families are not chosen at random and do not change all the time.

A testimonial from one of our (excellent) partner schools – Studio Cambridge, sent us this after hearing about the EF controversy:

It may be useful information to know, and you may already be aware, that we’re fortunate at Studio that our Accommodation team, myself included, have almost 25 years combined experience working with students and hosts. Such a low staff turnover really helps us to have a good understanding of how our hosts can be matched to our students’ needs.

Regarding our homestay hosts:

A large majority of our homestays have hosted our students for more than two years. More than 50% of our hosts have hosted for five years or longer, and around 30% of our hosts have hosted our students for ten years or longer.

As a result, we can say with confidence that we know our hosts extremely well. We don’t outsource any aspect of our accommodation, and all of our hosts are visited regularly by a member of the accommodation team who will be allocating students to those same hosts – this gives our staff total understanding of how best to match each student to a host that will be right for them.

Of course, things cannot go to plan 100% of the time, but our team are always on hand to resolve any concerns with a personal approach, either through mediation, or by finding alternative accommodation. As a small team, we get to know our students as well as our hosts and that helps us to help them. We never want any student to leave disappointed.

Our host recruitment is almost entirely via word-of-mouth recommendations from existing hosts. We think this gives us a very good starting point with new hosts; often they’ll have talked about hosting with an existing and trusted host, so their understanding of what is required of them is off to a good start. Following the initial enquiry, we will visit a host in person in their home, interview them and inspect the home, meet other family members (where possible) and pets, carry out relevant police and safety checks, and request references. The interview with new hosts is in-depth, usually lasting at least an hour, as it’s important hosts understand exactly what is required of them, and equally important for us to get to know a host properly.

Simply having a spare room is not enough – a host must be right for the task.

And in the event of a problem?

In the event of a problem, we react immediately. We generally act within an hour of a problem being reported, and our partner schools support us in this process. All the schools we work with have an emergency line available 24/7.

Although situations requiring a change of family are extremely rare, we do our utmost to relocate the student if necessary, always looking out for their well-being and the continuity of a memorable experience.

In conclusion: our promise to Easy Languages students

The example email above is from one specific school. We have already contacted other schools with whom we work so that they can share with you their method of selection, inspection and collection of feedback for host families.

The feedback we anticipate will support one fact: the partnership with our schools is based not only on their educational excellence, but also on their proven methodology with host families.

On the rare occasions when feedback is negative more than a couple of times, we cease working with the school.

Throughout our 30 years of existence, we have been confronted with a multitude of extraordinary situations. And although the host family is one of the elements that is sometimes mentioned (we admit it) as something that could have been better, we realise that it’s not something common, and we’re proud of it.

If you have any questions about how we work, select, and verify the integrity of our host families, please contact us to find out more.

The Easy Languages team