Struggling with costly bills? Bring on the Spanish students

Lara moved to our warmest room with an electric blanket, and the heat was on 24/7

There are igloos warmer than some dining rooms around this country. File photograph: Getty Images

There are igloos warmer than some dining rooms around this country. File photograph: Getty Images

 

I’m not at all surprised to hear Irish household carbon emissions are the worst in Europe. It’s all the rooms you see, the sitting room, the dining room, the second sitting room, the four bedrooms not to mention the five bathrooms.

They all have to be heated somehow and as we know, with our tradition of open fires and poor insulation, we mostly succeed in only half heating some rooms or completely overheating one, leaving lesser used rooms in a kind of deep freeze where the temperature inside manages to be colder than outside (I’d say there are igloos warmer than some dining rooms around this country).

There seems to be only one answer to this problem (and sorry Eamon Ryan of the Green Party, none of it involves solar thermal systems or pumps). What is this magical solution? Spanish students of course. This was the conclusion I came to six years ago as I pondered heating bills of more than €300 every second month. What can we do I wondered? Then it hit me. We have bunk-beds, our kids are in the right age group to act as a buffer and – thanks to our nearest neighbour, 800 years and all that – we speak very good English. Cheers mate! Let’s keep students.

Oh dear God I thought, this isn’t going to end well

I don’t think we had quite left the car park of Dublin Airport before the realisation that my vision of student-funded home refurbishments and early retirement may have been a tad optimistic.

“I am freezing,” was the first thing Lara, a 15 year old Spanish girl from Benidorm and our first ever student, said to me in the arrivals hall. It was August. Oh dear God I thought, this isn’t going to end well.

She was booked in with us until December. In hindsight starting with a term time student was a mistake. By October she had moved to our warmest room, the heat was on nearly 24/7, and an electric blanket and a heavy woollen bed cover had been purchased.

“Why is it so cold?” she asked me pitiably one miserable grey evening in November, her once brown Spanish skin now pale and sickly.

“Hush chiquita, soon you will be home.”

“You are a brave and noble people to endure this godforsaken windswept isle” she didn’t say, but I knew that she would if she could.

With this lesson duly learned I decided to change tactics and limit my hosting efforts to the vaguely warmer summer month of July, taking maybe two or three at a time for shorter periods. Summertime hosting has the added advantage of paying more, €200 per week per student versus €160-€180 for term time stays depending on the agency. I also decided to take only boys in future, less prone to cold and shorter bathroom occupancy times (albeit less bathroom accuracy).

There is no limit on how many of one nationality you can take

And there are a quite a few hosting options on offer. The most common one is the full board language student who comes to Ireland specifically to improve their English. They generally attend language classes in the morning and go on organised activities in the afternoon. As host family you provide breakfast, packed lunch and an evening meal. Agencies usually apply a strict one nationality per family rule.

As it happens we have a rugby club nearby which runs summer rugby camps for international students mainly from Spain and France. As these students come primarily for the rugby not the language, there is no limit on how many of one nationality you can take. So for instance, if you have the beds and the mental capacity you could take three or four or even more. They are all part of one group so they don’t mind sharing a room.

It’s kind of like Irish College for Spaniards except with rugby and nobody gets sent home for speaking English. There is some Irish too but only when you need to speak to your own family in code: “Don’t you dare touch those chips.” Except of course I can’t say that in Irish and even if I could no one would understand me. So I communicate it with threatening eye gestures and nods in between swigs of wine from the bottle because the roast potato, chicken and gravy dinner I served went down like a lead balloon. And now I am frantically plating up baskets of chips to feed the five hefty rugby lads staring in mystification at the gravy boat. Spaniards aren’t familiar with roast chicken dinners and certainly have no idea what to make of gravy.

My advice is to start with two for a short stay

Obviously Irish college style numbers are not for everybody and most of the profits are consumed in wine and xanax anyway. But I would always advise taking more than one, especially if you don’t have similar aged children of your own around.

Apart from the economies of scale, the tortuous dinner time conversation with just one student will still have you reaching for the wine in desperation. My advice is to start with two for a short stay and build from there. Who knows you could soon be living La Vida Loca and heating all your rooms this winter, not just one.

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