The Vanishing Homestay Option – When is a Lie Not a Lie?

Keats Language School, Kunming, China

Honesty may seem like a simple concept. We are generally raised to believe that telling the truth and following through on promises in an honorable way to live. But what exactly is “the truth”? We generally don’t think of this as a difference between cultures. Everyone knows the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. But do we really? How many times have you told someone that their new hair cut looks great when you really think the old style looked better, or that the dinner someone served you was fabulous when you are really wishing you had grabbed a burger on the way over. While these are just white lies intended to protect someone’s feelings, in other cultures these are considered lies. They believe that telling your friend the “real truth” is a true sign of friendship.

I think about this concept of truth as I mull over whether management at the Keats School has actually “lied” to me. Months ago I made arrangements to take three weeks of language instruction, four hours of private instruction a day with the option of a homestay. I would live with one of hundreds of families they have carefully screened. Even though I’m not a kid, I have found that the homestay option at language immersion courses is a great way to practice language and get an inside view of the local culture. This would be my first homestay in Asia and I was both apprehensive and intrigued by the possibility.

But something told me not to get my hopes up – that this may be one of those unfulfilled Chinese promises. I’ve heard it over and over. You can’t trust the Chinese. They lie. They promise you one thing and do another.  Yes, but is it really dishonesty or an alternate view of the truth? Lies may be told to save face, or maybe they are giving you what they think is best for you and not necessarily what you asked for. Knowing this, I became skeptical when the receipt for the deposit I had paid back in March had no specific information on it.

My suspicions grew when a month before I left I sent them an email confirming my study dates, accommodations and pickup in Kunming and they acknowledged only my flight information. Then, a week before the trip, I had the brilliant idea to ask for the name and contact information of my host family so that I could give it to my husband. This they provided with a hopeful description of a “warm hearted” divorced woman about my age who taught English at a school not far from the Keats school. I started wondering how this would work out rather if it would happen at all.

When I got off the plane in Kunming and entered the baggage claim area I could see the crowd waiting for the arriving passengers. There was my name in big Roman letters among the myriad signs in Chinese characters. But soon to follow the initial small talk was the tragic story of the horrible accident that had befallen my host. HE was now in the hospital and I would have to stay in the schools dormitories.

“But I thought I was staying with a woman,” I replied.

“Oh, maybe it was her husband.”

“I thought she was divorced.”

No matter, someone was in the hospital, there were no other families and I was to stay in the dorms.

Later that day the manager of the school extended her apologies, corrected the story with the specific details of how the woman had broken her collar bone, and no, there were no other families available. I’ve since checked on their website and they no longer offer a homestay option. Coincidence? Did they lie? Or do they just think they know better?

For links to all the posts in this series see the Kunming page.

2 thoughts

  1. Pfft, what a blatant lie. Thanks for sharing your story. I was googling around about Keats and this incident gives me pause for thought.

    1. True it was mostly likely a lie, but the rest of the experience was good. I especially liked my instructor. That said, this was nearly 9 years ago and things can change a lot in 9 years, for better or worse, especially in China. Hopefully you can find some more recent reviews. Good Luck with your studies.

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