Thank you for taking the time to do this little interview with us. We really appreciate it.
The reason we are doing it is because one of the main attractions for students to come and learn English in Ireland is the opportunity to experience the Irish welcome. Our students report how happy they are to come and stay with Irish families and that they feel such a part of the family when they come. For those who have also been to other countries to learn English, they say there is nothing to compare to an Irish family.
Tell us a little about yourselves?
Hi, my name is Patricia and I am Matthew. We like cooking, entertaining and travelling. We love interacting with students. We talk about travelling, cooking, gardening with the students, depending on the students’ interest.
How long have you been hosting international students?
Over 15 years.
What made you start taking international students?
From the experience of travelling abroad, we found that we love meeting foreign people and speaking foreign languages. As I was near retirement, we thought why not host foreign students and interact with them. We enjoy having them here.
What are some of the challenges students encounter when they first come to Ireland?
I would say the language barrier and the different culture, different meal times and trying to get used to the Irish way of life. I feel that it’s our duty and our job to make them feel welcome and their stay with us enjoyable.
What do you usually do with students to help them to adjust to Irish life?
We like to speak with them and encourage them to speak with us in English. You know, it’s just to make them happy and to have a bit of fun as well as the learning.
Do you make contact with the student assigned to you before their arrival e.g. by phone, email or Skype?
Not all of them but most of them do actually send an email with their photographs and I email them back and have a conversation via email before their arrival. We try to assure them that they are very welcome as they may feel a bit uncertain.
What advice would you give our students before arriving in Cork?
Ah ha, please bring plenty warm clothes and clothes for rain.
What advice would you give them about staying in Cork?
Be careful. Don’t take any risks and stay together if they are going out as a group at night.
Usually they don’t go into the city at night. If they do they stay together and watch out for each other.
Tell me about a typical day with our students.
Breakfast. When they come back from the school they do their homework. Actually I found that they often go to bed for an hour and take a nap before dinner time. Then we call them for dinner. Dinner can last 2 and half to 3 hours with conversation. After long conversations they are tired and they watch TV or use Skype to talk to their family. They go to bed early enough as they have school the following day.
Do you have any funny story or experience with our students?
Xanty from Spain used to look at the kitchen to find out what the dinner was every night. As you know, in Ireland potatoes are our staple diet so most dinners would involve some type of potatoes, one form or another. One night, he called me and said “Again tonight potatoes?”
So I said “yes”. Xanty said “I am going to a restaurant tonight with my friend”. So I said “no problem. But can you tell me the name of the restaurant? I need to talk to the head chef to make sure that he will serve plenty potatoes for you tonight”. He was down on the ground laughing.
We had another student called Hitomi. She was a lovely Japanese lady. We brought her to an Irish evening night in my brother in-law’s house. Hitomi was very musical and she was good at piano and my brother-in-law was in his element too. Hitomi asked me to sing Danny Boy and she recorded me singing. She got very emotional. Now I might be a very famous singer in Japan, I presume.
Why do you think students love staying with Irish families?
They just love it. Well, we are from Cork and the conversation and the craic is mighty.
What is it about the Irish welcome in comparison to other countries?
There is no comparison. There was one boy and we were collecting him from the airport. We gave him a big hug when we met him in the airport. He was surprised and said, “You even didn’t know me but gave me a hug.”
Are the students who come to stay with you culturally different?
A little bit different but not much. They are not very different.
What do you usually cook for your students?
The best of Cork home cooked meals. If they come here thin, we will make sure that they put on plenty weight. J
Can you give examples of weekday meals and weekend meals? Irish Stew, Bacon and cabbage, Chicken and Fish. Matthew loves going fishing. So we have fresh fish very often. Depending on the students, if they wish to go fishing, they go with Matthew. I did a course on international cooking a few years ago and I got a certificate and everything.
Do you cater for students will allergies or food intolerances or special dietary requirements? Yes we do.
Does the student have study facilities available to them and do you help them with their homework?
Yes, they have them, and we do help them with homework all the time.
Would you tell me what the student should expect while living with a host family and should not expect from the host family?
We change the bed linen every week. We do their washing every week but only light washing.
Are there some students that come back to visit you again?
Yes. Some Spanish and some French came back to us and stayed with us. A Japanese student recommended us to his friend who was coming to Ireland.
Are you still in contact with those that stayed with you previously?
Quite a few of them. Some people always send us Christmas greetings. One of the Korean students still sends us emails with her family pictures as well.
Thank Matthew and Pat for taking the time to do this interview with us.