Thursday, 5 August 2010

Suddenly Acquiring A Teenaged 'Daughter'

Myself and the woman who lives in my house, given the fall in my income since becoming unemployed again, have looked at ways of increasing the household revenue, if not my income.  Like many towns and all cities in the UK, ours has a number of language schools which at this time of year in particular fill with students from across the world, notably other EU states (of which Italy and Spain seem to lead the way) and China.  They come to the UK to learn English and have a bit of a holiday from their parents.  Though increasingly language students are of all ages and business and retired people now come to such schools, their visits tend to be at different times of the year and the summer is dominated by the teenagers.  For many towns, especially run-down seaside resorts they bring in vital funds to the town and while their noise and crowds might be looked down upon disapprovingly by locals, they know that the money is very useful.  The government recently sought to choke off this revenue by effectively saying you could not come and study in the UK until you could speak a pretty high level of English anyway, a good grade at GCSE, a level that the majority of the British population does not have itself.  The industry employs 3000 people and brings £600 million per year to the UK. 

The ripple effects are far wider than that because of the need to accommodate these students.  Unlike, say, university students, most language students who come to the UK only for 2-4 weeks are billeted in private houses usually one at a time, sometimes a couple more.  This brings revenue to literally hundreds of households at any one time.  The going rate seems to be, in the South of England, about £400 per month per student.  Schools vary in size considerably, but having 200 students in one cohort does not seem excessive for the schools I have seen, so let us say each school would be putting £80,000 into the local economy each month.  I have lost count of how many language schools there are in my town, some small, some very large, but it seems apparent that by simply lodging their students in houses across the town they are providing hundreds of thousands of pounds of knock-on money into the economy.

Myself and the woman in my house realised that clearing out one room and providing it for a language student could tap us into these funds.  We had been inundated by offers from schools in vicinity and signed up with three to start with to ensure a constant flow of students.  Under UK regulations if you have language students below the age of 16 you have to undergo a CRB check like teachers and youth workers do, but if they are over 16 you can save the money and of course you get a student who should be responsible for their own welfare.  Thus, we went for this option.  We had our house inspected and were asked about what we could provide and then and sat back and waited for our first student.  We were to provide bed, breakfast and evening meal and a packed lunch when the student went on field trips on the weekend.  Out of the £100 per week this did not see a heavy expense.  Having travelled a lot in my youth as had the woman in my house, we were looking forward to having someone to talk to so she (as it turned out) could practice her English.

I have written before on this blog about avoiding the risk of inadvertently becoming a parent and the dire consequences of that happening.  However, wrapped up in this financial agreement and the business side of things I totally overlooked the pastoral consequences of having a 16-year old Spanish girl living with us for four weeks.  I had enough trouble dealing with a 7-year old and now literally overnight we have a teenager in our midst.  First she needs to be ferried from place to place in our car and the friends she is with too, so that is me breaking off what I am doing to go and collect her.  Her mobile is re-routed via Spain so any texts take hours to reach her so I am wandering round the town scanning groups of teenaged Europeans trying to seek the particular one when she is not at the place she was supposed to be collected from.  I was worried how sinister I must appear and was concerned I would be pulled in by the police.  Certainly the men lurking around there alarmed me and I immediately had nightmares of the student being butchered on her second evening in our town or at least and most likely, being mugged and having her mobile phone stolen.  The school set a 22.00 curfew, but in a house in which we struggle to stay awake passed 20.00, this is a challenge for us.  We gave up waiting up for her and were glad when the school issued her with her bus pass so I was no longer the free taxi service. 

The school she is with is far larger than the average one and has its own catering facilities open 12 hours per day and runs activities seven evenings per week.  This has meant, ironically, that we see our student as little as we presumably would a teenage daughter.  She does not stop for breakfast, just goes from her hour long chore of selecting her clothes and putting on make-up (one error we made at first was not to put a mirror in her bedroom meaning the bathroom was blocked for an hour each morning and before any major social event).  She will not take lunch and we are asleep before she returns.  I worry that in fact she is not eating enough.  After the first couple of nights she has had no meal with us and even eschews the proffered packed lunch at weekends.  Occasionally she remembers to text to tell us of her comings and goings but that is rare and the text usually turns up long after the event.  We have had none of the English conversation around the dining table and our computer has been adapted so that anything you hover over with the cursor comes up with a Spanish translation.

We are not the parents, we are not even in loco parentis, but when you have a young person in your house, especially one who is unfamiliar with your town and who does not seem to be eating enough and going to bed late every night, meaning she is now not rising in time for school, you do get concerned.  However, I suppose in this case we are no more than a bed & breakfast hotel for a guest who only wants the former.  She will soon be gone, but what it has alerted me to is that within 8 years, possibly less, the small boy who lives in my house will probably be just the same and that unless this household breaks up when the house is repossessed as it well might, I will be having to face up to the same sort of demands but permanently.  I suppose with a parent on hand discipline and curfew hours will be able to be enforced in a way we cannot with our guest.  I do feel rather though that I have spent some time with the 'Spirit of Summers Future' and seen all the unease and driving that those years will bring.

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