Jasper Pleydell-Bouverie squares up to being the perfect Christmas host

This festive season looks like being an interesting experience. Gathered around a Derbyshire Christmas tree will be my mother and father- in-law, my wife and I, and two complete strangers called Dagnew and Ying Xue.

Current information on Dagnew and Ying Xue is sketchy, to say the least. The London-based charity Host, which specialises in fixing up overseas students with British families for Christmas and for weekends throughout the year, put them in touch with us - but so far there has been no direct contact. All we have are the application forms they filled in for Host.

I can tell you, therefore, that Dagnew is 41, from Addis Ababa, and is studying English at Warwick University. Ying Xue, 42, from Shaodon in China's Hunan province is also studying English (English Stylistics!) at Lancaster University. From their application forms, it is obvious that they have never met each other before either.

All this might sound like the recipe for a Christmas disaster - and I must say that I have had the odd daydream in which we are all of us sitting silently around the Christmas turkey, struggling to find a common language, let alone common conversation. Does China even get on with Ethiopia after all? And what about Hong Kong?

Wisely, Host advises British families to steer clear of politics unless students volunteer information, and the organisation rightly supposes that successful placements depend on much more mundane matters.

In the manner of the best dating agencies, Host has clearly taken trouble to make sure that we will have something to say to each other. From the application form it is easy to glean a simple message: here is a person much like you. My father-in-law was a teacher before he retired, so it is no surprise to see that both Dagnew and Ying Xue are teachers (my father- in-law was actually a religion teacher, so it is wholly appropriate that, under religion, Ying Xue should have written "No"). Both Dagnew and Ying Xue have fathers who are farmers back in their respective countries.

But will the ice be broken? Other families who have taken part in the scheme are encouraging. Apparently the thaw generally takes about half an hour. The strangeness of it all, which initially inspires nerves and polite remarks, eventually contributes to the breaking down of inhibition. One Chinese man, for example, wrote on his application form that he was interested in roller-skating, only shyly announcing to his hosts during initial introductions that he was, in fact, his country's roller-skating champion. Once you have shared that sort of joke, it must be easy to become good friends.

Experienced hosts say it is best not to over-plan visits. Indeed, they point out, how can you plan anything for people you've never met before? Students apparently relish the opportunity to escape from cramped accommodation, dirty washing, and canteen cooking. Anything else is a bonus.

And the hosts? What do they get out of it? Good friends in far-flung places, a close-up view of another country - gained in the comfort of your living room - and, especially at Christmas time, the satisfaction that you are taking part in something that is undoubtedly "a good thing". One family I talked to said that it inspired tolerance and common understanding, and that it was a bit like bringing the United Nations into your own home - only more so.

I can say without reservation that I am really looking forward to this Christmas. I have no idea what Dagnew and Ying Xue will be like, whether they'll get up at the crack of dawn or sleep until lunchtime, whether they'll bother with church or spend the whole day watching videos of Cheers, whether they'll talk about politics or poinsettias, or, indeed whether they'll arrive at all. It's all a big mystery. And that, I think, is half the point of it.

Host is still looking for students and potential hosts this Christmas. Telephone 0171-494 2468.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Extras
indybest
News
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Year 5/6 Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

    Year 5/6 Teacher

    £21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobThe successful ...

    Business Analyst (Systems/ Incident Analyst)

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Business Analyst r...

    SAP GRC Architect / Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

    Day In a Page

    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor