Homestay horror: Student intimidated, asked to cook, clean

COOKING, cleaning and intimidation. One international student tells Meld how his seemingly “perfect” home became a house of horrors.

Graphic: Vera Lam

Four years ago, a 24-year-old Malaysian came to Melbourne to pursue his PhD. Like most international students, Garry searched for accommodation online and he soon found a seemingly “perfect” deal – a room in the home of a middle-aged Australian couple, for a mere $600 per month.

Even better,  it was only a stone’s throw away from his university.

He didn’t know much about the couple, except they both worked and had no kids. But it was’t long before Garry got to know them a little too well, when they began asking him to “help out” around the house.

“At first, they told me that it was part of the Australian culture that we would help each other, ” he recalls.

“In exchange for a place to stay, I was obliged to do their house chores such as cleaning and cooking.”

Given it was his first time in Australia, Garry didn’t suspect a thing. In fact, he was more than happy to embrace the local culture by “helping out”.

Soon, Garry found himself being asked to cook a relatively big meal for the couple every Sunday, to be packed and frozen for them to eat over the week.

“They rarely cooked. They would even bring the food that I had prepared to work,” he says.

With luck, there were sometimes leftovers for Garry. But he got used to making his own food. For the first three months of his homestay, Garry survived on cheap pasta and canned food alone – what he called his “one-dollar” meals.

But as Garry’s workload began to pile up,  the weekly housekeeping affair quickly became a nightmare.

“They would blame me whenever the house got dirty, claiming that I was the only one at home most of the time,” he says.

“They also had two cats which made things worse. Sometimes the cats would bring all kinds of funny things into the house, including dead rats.”

Related story: How to spot a rental scam

Graphic: Karen Poh

Threats and intimidation

Aside from small talk, there wasn’t any real conversation between Garry and the couple. He says they were mostly “glued” to their computer – something that became a real problem when the computer broke down.

“They started to ask if they could borrow my laptop, which was my one and only tool to study,” he says.

It soon became a daily routine for the couple to use his laptop all night so they could make money off playing online poker.

“They would return my laptop in the morning before going off to work. By then my laptop would have been overheated, making it impossible for me to use,” says Garry.

One day, Garry was so frustrated he denied the couple use of his laptop when they asked – something which didn’t turn out well at all.

“They demanded that I pay them the money they could have otherwise ‘won’ from the poker game,” he says.

“It was ridiculous.”

The couple also threatened to kick him out on several occasions.

“They warned me to be grateful because if not for them, I’ll have nowhere else to stay in this foreign land,” he recalls.

Hopeless and with no one to turn to, Garry began to avoid the couple.

In his most desperate hours, he bought a sleeping bag and stayed in his university’s library for 10 consecutive days. He only made quick trips home to freshen up during the day, when he knew the couple would be out for work.

“When they realised I was gone, they texted me saying they’ll sue me if I don’t come home,” he says.

“They claimed that it was against the Australian law and threatened to report me to the police.

“They also scolded me for wasting their food when I didn’t go back to cook for them.”

It finally got to the point when Garry decided enough was enough.

“They were furious when I told them I wanted to move out,” he remembers.

“They even threatened not to return my $600 bond if I left before the agreed one-year stay period.”

For Garry, $600 was a huge sum of money – especially after converting that to Malaysian ringgit.

“But eventually, I realised that it was not worth all the distress and pain that I was put through,” says Garry.

He moved out.

Related story: How to spot a rental scam

Graphic: Vera Lam

Learning from mistakes

To his biggest surprise, Garry came to learn about “written tenancy agreements” as he settled into his second home.

“It was the biggest mistake (not to negotiate) a proper contract with my previous landlords,” he now says.

But his “nightmare” wasn’t all for nothing. It has inspired Garry to help others who may be victims of similar circumstances.

Now, as the student housing ambassador at Victoria University, he says the student accommodation crisis is more serious than he could have imagined.

“Many international students are afraid of speaking up even though they are clearly being disadvantaged,” he says.

“They fear that their visas might be revoked and they will be sent back to home.”

But Garry says students should reach out for help if necessary. And he recommends university accommodation as one of the safest housing options for new international students.

Related story: How to spot a rental scam

Have you had bad experiences with landlords during your time in Australia? When in doubt, speak out and educate yourself on your rights by visiting the  Tenants Union of Victoria’s website.

There are 12 comments

  1. alicia

    My experience as a homestay host was different.
    I stay in new zealand but originated from SA.
    I treated our homestay as part of my own kids because i felt they far from home ccleaned up after students, including messy bathroom. .took the students sight seeing did their laundry..five star treatment even tried cooking mesls from their culture…but I find that Asian girls are racist and very anti social and on top of it the agency paid me very bad…

  2. Dianne Ferrara

    I’m sorry to hear of Gary’s experience and doubtless there are some who do not do the right thing by the students. I do hasten to add that there are great hosts too and hopefully these outnumber the bad. I’d like to think I am a good one and treat my guests as part of the family. The longevity of their stay is testament to this. I have also had several return after a stint away.

    in any case, no-one should have to put up with disrespectful treatment. I am terribly a shame of that couple. They should be blackband.

    Dianne Ferrara

  3. Arthur Siew

    I have been staying with various homestay host of different ethnic and cultural background in different location throughout my study, work and placement. I stayed with islanders, africans, indians, lebenese and occassionally East Asians. I am currently staying with Muslims and I get along with them very well. It is usually the Anglos Aussies that really love to a lot of shit and try to make your life difficult, from that experience, I already grown to distrust Anglos Aussies and would just simply pretend to be their friend. It is not the minorities who are the problem, it is the anglos who are very untrustworthy.

  4. Ellie

    While Garry’s imagination takes that swing at his homestay, he misses some points in the story that will make me believe that even the half of his recount was truth….

    Sorry, but there were too many noticeable holes in the story to be truth.

    It surprised me to hear in the comment that Anglo Ausie are the most difficult.
    Quoting Arthur Siew: ” It is usually the Anglos Aussies that really love to a lot of shit and try to make your life difficult”…

    I would like to answer you first, I do hope it will get to you somehow.

    First: This is a terrible way to comment in an Australian site on Ausie’s…

    Second: If it wasn’t for Anglo Ausie’s you would have still been back home. It was Ausie people that made the laws, that changed the laws and that will change the laws… It isn’t what you call here a Minority that changing laws in regard to Students arriving for short or long stay here.

    Third: It is a pity that you are condemning the Original Australian. You are living here and yet calling them the people who “likes to make shit” and generously you added that “They would try and make your life difficult”… it is a give -in that you are full of inferiority and some heavy complexes. In order to write so much negative on Australian that allow you to come here at the first place.

    Think about it, you are condemning millions for one experience that you may had.

    Now here is my experience:
    I find that Anglo Ausie are the most tolerate people, they are kind, friendly, warm, open minded and they can take a lot or rubbish from a guy like you – before they will tell you to get out of their face!!!

    I also find that many Asians, attend to have so many complexes and issues with how they look, that it affect their behaviour when they meet with “Anglo People”… It must be rooted deep into the culture of Slaves Nations.

    Had you come to Australia without complexes you would have been accepted just like anyone else.

    It is hard to Accept a Back Stabber and a False person who already from the start condemn the other side as been Racist and Shit (your words), trouble makers and if you could I bet your list would go on and on…

    I Find that Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Korea and all the other small Asian Countries attend to have your view. I will be fair and give percentage as not all of them are like you. ( 60% are the one I would not like to have anything to do with)…
    On the other hand, Japanese people are Nothing like the Rest of Asia !! They have dignity and they are not judging… (unless they mixed with Asian like you before hand that blew their brain with Crap!! ) Percentage of Japanese who are not judging Anglo Australian as trouble are (85% to 90% have a good positive attitude)… You See this is a totally different league.

    I do hope people would not take notice of this story. As I believe it was fabricated and too much Rubbish added to it… Just like the comment above mine.

  5. Bubbles

    I’m sorry but you got a very cheap deal and my feeling is that you have exaggerated what was expected of you. Yes we do help each other, especially if rent is so cheap.
    I do homestay too and I find that so many people who are travelling on the cheap have no idea of the value of their accommodation or how good a deal they’re getting.
    I would recommend you investigate further.

  6. Kj

    That sucks that you had to deal with people whome more then less treated you like a in house maid. It is also sad that they had serious gambling issue (common in Australia and NZ) but you need to realise that you should have done your research before studying here. Australian government makes their laws and expectations very open on websites. I host Chinese students and one common thing I find is they are very spoilt / lazy and do not have very close relationships with their parents most of them see their parents as a living breathing lotto machine. I tell new students what I expect from them have written rules and then show them love. After a few weeks they adjust and start to have a positive response to having expectations, love and limits. lesson = if it is to good to be true then it probably is. Cheapest does not always equal best.

  7. du

    Ok this is getting ridiculous. I have been hosting students for years and within days they know what’s going on and what their rights are. They are very switched on and if they don’tlike where they are staying they leave. I doubt that they would not recognise the difference between culture and servitude. As for the aussie comments if you are going to slang off at us then why bother coming to Australia? We are largely a tolerant people but don’tlike to be pushed around Iin our own country. We welcome those who embrace our values and wish to contribute to our way of life which up till now has been pretty good. So take a deep breath and think carefully about what you say about your hosts!

  8. Di Ferrara

    Wow, Arthur Siew, how racist are you! So you how many anglo aussies have you tried in order to make such a statement? Really, if anglo aussies bother you that much please return from whence you came. I happen to know this is not the case so before you start to slander everyone in sundry get your facts right. Astonishing statement. Don’t you think Anglo Aussies read these sites?????

  9. Patty

    Is this is True story? Or is this the university story to turn international students away from homestay families so they can keep their dorms full..

    I have never heard anything remotely close to this story. My family and I have provided homestay services to Fort Worth, TX, Arlington, TX with no issues. We have hosted approx 30 students ranging from high school age to university age over several years.

  10. Katie

    I feel sorry that the original poster had that bad experience with Homestay. You really do get what you pay for ($600 pm is very cheap), and it sounds like it was more a share house arrangement rather than formal Homestay.

    We host students and it’s clear that meals have to be provided (breakfast and lunch they make themselves) and dinner is provided and eaten as part of the family.
    I came here looking to see what people’s experience was with how much dinner (specifically the Japanese students) eat. Our Japanese girls eat twice as much as my husband, and I was curious if this is what others find. Especially given they don’t eat this amount in Japan.

    Having said that the students are expected to clean their own rooms and should help with packing dishes away, general tidy up.
    I think that couple just took advantage of an unsuspecting student, but the ones we’ve had are pretty switched on to their rights.

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