On a chilly autumn morning in London, Ms Gordon opened her front door and greeted us with a warm embrace.
A UK-born woman with Jamaican roots, Ms Gordon spends her time working as an immigration caseworker, leading sign language services at her local church and hosting international students with EF.
We were lucky enough to spend an hour getting to know one of our star hosts, and to hear how she makes her house a home for the international students she hosts.
Hello Ms Gordon! Thanks so much for having us. Can you tell us more about yourself?
My name is Christine Gordon. I was born in Nottingham, grew up in Jamaica and then moved back to Nottingham. I attended school in Jamaica for most of my school years.
My first job was as a police officer in Jamaica. I came back to the UK in 1988, studied business at Brixton College, and later psychology at the University of London.
I have worked at the British Library, the NHS, volunteered for the London Probation, worked as a support teacher, a mental caseworker, and an immigration caseworker helping people when coming to the UK. I am also a group church leader and a prayer group leader.
You’ve had an incredible career. What about hobbies – what do you do in your free time?
I play the piano, cook, bake, and read. I am a sports fanatic as well: my favorite sports are football and cricket. I also love traveling and travel a lot in Europe and America.
Why do you host and what is it like to host people from all over the world in your home? Do you have a special way to make them feel welcome?
I love to get to know people from all over the world, also to learn their language. It’s a real pleasure to get to know the students I host.
I always give them a nice, warm hug when they arrive. I think that’s so important and makes them feel welcome.
I also make sure to spend a lot of time chatting to them – the students are all very keen to learn English. I always say to them if there’s a word that they don’t know just make a note of it and I’ll help them when they come home.
Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot about other cultures since you started hosting?
Yes, I’ve learned so much. The last student I had here was from Saudi Arabia; we had a lot of interaction over breakfast and around dinner. He was asking about my religion because he was Muslim and I learned a lot about his religion and his culture: it was a big journey for me culturally.
That’s wonderful! I love what you said about the hugs, it’s such a great way of making a student feel welcome because in England we can be quite reserved!
When I opened the door I say ‘welcome to my home!’ and I give them a hug. I show them to their bedroom. I take them for a tour around the house. I tell them that you’re welcome to play the piano or the guitar here, you’re also welcome to watch my favorite show Strictly Come Dancing with me. I really want them to feel at home here.
What is the go-to meal that you cook for the students?
Sometimes I cook rice and peas Caribbean style. If I make a roast dinner, I cook chicken and roast potatoes.
If it’s one of the student’s birthdays or my own, I make a birthday cake. Over summer I have the family around for barbecues in the garden, so they also meet my family.
How do you deal with students that are a little nervous about living in a new city?
I tell them they’re more than welcome to talk to me about any problems; some have even shared stories about breakups with me. I say I’m a mum away from home for them and want to be there for them in that way. I really try to open not only my home but also my arms and heart to them because I understand that it can be so hard to be far away from home.
And they are very welcome in my home. I’m always there for them if they’re sick or need help with anything.
You started hosting in 2015 and hosted 32 students so far – that’s incredible. Do you have any advice for someone who is considering hosting?
I would advise you to be open to them, to embrace them and to make an effort to learn about other cultures.
If you know, for example, you are hosting someone from Japan, read about life in Japan and what their culture is like. That way you’ll feel more comfortable from the first moment they arrive – I’ve found this approach to be really rewarding.
And I would really encourage other families to host. It’s so rewarding and it’s honestly the best thing I could have done with the little spare time I have.