In Japan, it is practically obligatory for all middle-class high school students and/or college students to experience an overseas homestay at least once during their schooldays. These stays last from as little as one week to as long as a year. Recently there are even homestay tours aimed at elderly people, or mother-child pairs. Although they are extremely popular, they are not cheap, because the huge and booming homestay industry is controlled mainly by huge and booming travel agencies. However a small and thriving cottage industry has also sprung up to cater for people who don’t quite trust the big boys. Unfortunately, because the homestay industry itself is still quite new and wholly unregulated in Japan, there are a lot of fly-by-night operators and scam artists in the field. Unlike the unsuspecting Japanese public, I don’t trust any of them.
In fact, I’ve heard so many horror stories about them that I would never, ever dream of sending any child of mine off on a homestay arranged by any Japanese firm. (Or even Benjamin, for that matter.)
Last week, my girl-who-won’t-eat set off, with great anticipation, on her two-week trip to London. Her parents had arranged the whole thing through a small company in Kobe. The deal included bed and board with an English family, daily English lessons at a local language school, and sightseeing trips. All in all, it cost about $4,000 for two whole weeks (not including airfare).
I had high hopes for the trip, but wasn’t really surprised when the girl emailed her mother saying that she had run into trouble as soon as arriving in London. Japanese kids are notorious for being spoilt and having overly high expectations, perhaps on account of the pampering that they receive from their mothers early in life. I felt sure that her complaints were about the fact that she wasn’t served three-course meals at least twice a day, or that her bath towels weren’t changed every single morning.
Then I heard the details of her ordeal in London (for which she cannot be blamed at all). And I realised how badly she and her parents had been ripped off by the agency. And my blood began to boil. I’m still furiously angry as I type this. I need your input.