Things have been very interesting in Budapest Hungary for our expat family when it comes to starting our homestay business.
When we arrived in September last year, we explored the market immediately as to what kind of English teaching programs were available for teenage students. Quickly we realized that the idea of Homestay had not arrived to Hungary yet. Which meant we had a concrete business plan that we knew worked, but had to start from square one trying to get the idea to catch on.
We had to educate the people about our education program.
In Hungary the basic way to learn English outside of school is summer camp programs mostly run by Hungarian English students learning how to teach, who are wishing to gather experience before finishing their degree and becoming a real teacher in a school. That gave the soon to be teachers a taste of the language, and an opportunity to become more fluent. However, with their large groups with dozens of students, and activity based learning, although it is very fun to go to these camps, there is not a whole lot of English being taught, and a whole lot of Hungarian being spoken. They are glorified babysitting services, and cost far too cheap to actual be an effective thing.
Money might be better spent living with an Anglophone family.
In the past, Hungarians nearing grade twelve graduation who are thinking about taking their university courses in English, traditionally take the expensive trip to England to brush up on their language skills before university starts in September. Having gone through the system, most Hungarians have strong writing and reading skills with nearing B2 levels but have little opportunity in class to talk, and often have strong accents and low oral skills in general. Large class sizes are often the culprit and/or teachers who teach English but who are not fluent or have their level B2-C1 levels but who also have had little experience speaking in their alternative language.
Similar language programs to our LivEnglish program are offered through many homestay companies in the UK, and run at about 3000£/week. That program runs exactly on the same template as ours with morning lessons, afternoon activities and homework, movies and all meals included.
In France the same program was started as many French did not want their children to leave the country to learn English. Parents are far more fearful than ever before to send their children too far from home without travelling experience, especially on their own. In France these companies run at about 900-1200€/week and is offered throughout France wherever you can find Anglophones living. The program is perfect for children 10-18 years of age while taking English in school.
Our affiliate in France is called Daily English run by Sally Cornan, and she is the top runner in ‘homestay’ or ‘sejour linguistique’ as they call it in France. She visits every family once a year to insure quality, she does all the bookings herself and pairs each student with the right family. She knows the families personally, and helps both the students and the families through the entire process. She took an idea and made it her own by hiring families with children similar ages to the students she books. Her language holidays are always full to the max!
When we decided to bring homestay to Hungary, we wanted to use the standard template, but we wanted to narrow the idea as well, offering homestay with families with children but also qualified EAL teachers and/or working teachers. We also decided for us, two children per week was the maximum to offer an intensive catered holiday to the individual student. Perhaps when the demand out runs our supply, we will increase to four, but for now, in the baby stages of our business, we are happy with two students per week per family unit.
What I have learned in Hungary trying to open a business, is that most people have no idea what we are offering here at LivEnglish Homestay and parents are very sceptical at first. But slowly, now that we have been operating for nearly a year, the idea is spreading by word of mouth; personal accounts that the program works. With every happy student, comes a family recommendation, and recommendations bring more families, and hopefully a bright future for us creating business in Hungary.
Today we are full of students for our fall break and our first summer was completely full as well. We have half French and half Hungarian teenagers living with us, which means the idea is catching on! Most people have some ties to France and are already familiar with the program so they feel they are getting a great opportunity not having to travel so far, and the price point staying at home without airline tickets or train fees makes it a good deal.
On the business side of things the website is getting more and more hits. We have a website company helping us with the new Hungarian words for the SEO end of things, and Facebook business pages and overall exposure.
This last week we joined the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to get the word out and made some good networking connections. We also have magazines interested in our story as well as the TV show House Hunters International where we will share our new home and tell our story.
The program itself works very well and activities are always our family favourite. So far this week we went bowling, walked throughout Budapest, swam at Aquaworld, went out to a specialty Hungarian bakery for my daughter Angelina’s 12th birthday and today we are heading to Margit Island and carving pumpkins.
Dinners this week were; spaghetti with meatballs, tuna with cheddar cheese tri coloured pasta, pizza, sausages, fries and large fresh salads, goulash soup, chinese chicken wings and chicken fingers in Angelina’s specialty dipping sauce, and today we are having Alfonz’s famous hamburgers! All homemade meals from scratch!
I love my job! I have the opportunity to watch students flourish in our homestay environment. We get to know these amazing young minds, to see how they think, and find ways to share our mother tongue with them. We are very grateful.
I feel very lucky to wake up every morning doing what I do. I hope when my own children and our students grow up, they feel the same way about their own jobs, because when you love what you do, then it doesn’t feel like work does it?.
We are already taking bookings for next Spring and Summer breaks. The program runs July 1st – September 1st. Each week starts at 4:00 pm on Sunday and ends 11:00 am on Saturday.
Please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Our website livenglish.hu
Thank you for sharing your experience. I am considering the option of opening my own business in Budapest. It is always interesting to know the experience of other expats. Good luck!