I had never heard of Wrexham, Wales before let alone ever imagined that one day I would travel there to spend the weekend with a total stranger. However, this is how I spent a weekend in March 2019.
For those who have never heard of Host UK, like myself previously, the program pairs international students with host families somewhere in the UK. Each country has its own set of regional organizers who interview and visit Host’s (and potential Host’s) houses to ensure that the location is up to standard with Host UK guidelines. You must be an international student to apply for Host, and if you are a University of Westminster student then the school will cover the application fee. You simply need to pay the transportation costs. You can also chose to go on a Host visit with a friend if you are unsure about going alone.
I applied for a solo Host visit in December and was somewhat disappointed when I didn’t hear back from them. I still kept my weekends open just in case they reached out to me. In February I received a phone call from a woman in Wales who formally invited me to stay with her in March. I was very excited for this opportunity because I knew I would be able to sit in a true British home and learn about the culture.
On a Friday afternoon, I left the familiar streets of London and headed for Wrexham. The train ride was very pleasant and I loved getting to see more of the countryside. I had never been this far north in England or Wales, so the anticipation was growing. I had to take two trains to get to Wrexham before I arrived at the train station to meet my Host.
My Host was a lovely British woman who greatly reminded me of my grandmother with her welcoming smile and warm greeting. She pulled up in her purple car and off we went. The first stop we made was to pick up wine from Sainsbury’s, so I knew it was going to be a great weekend.
The first time I walked into her house I was immediately taken back to my great-grandfather’s house in Maryville, Tennessee. The furniture, colors, large amounts of knick-knacks, and the grandfather clock that chimed every 15 minutes, all took me back to a familiar home. I immediately relaxed and felt comfortable in her home.
After I was shown a tour of the house and my room, and properly met the 15 year-old puppy, Duty, we sat down and waited for her friend to arrive for dinner. We talked about my studies, Tennessee, and what I was wanting to see this weekend. I really wasn’t sure what all I wanted to do, so she said she would take me to a town on Saturday and to the aqueduct on Sunday. Her friend arrived for dinner and we had the best stuffed chicken and salad I have ever had. I don’t know if it was because I hadn't had a proper home cooked meal in many months or her cooking abilities, but either way I ate everything on my plate.
After dinner, we “went through” (which is a British term I have never heard in real life. I thought they only said this on Downton Abbey) to the living room where we watched a program on the royal family. I found this interesting because I thought British people were not interested in the royal family, but apparently they are because every night we watched a program on the royals.
The next day I woke up to the amazing smell of bacon. My Host had spent the morning making a lovely breakfast. Afterwards, I walked Duty around the block before we headed to a town called Corwen to see a statue dedicated to Owain Glyndwr. Owain was proclaimed Prince of Wales and the father of modern Wales around the year 1400. Afterwards, my Host took me to a town called Llangollen where she dropped me off and let me walk around the town.
I spent a few hours walking along the river path and through the main streets and squares of the town. It was nice getting out of noisy and gray London for a weekend and to get back to “nature”. I will say one of my favorite parts was taking the bus back to Wrexham because I was able to see more of the country and different villages.
I arrived in Wrexham and once I made it to my Host’s house, prepared a dessert from my region called a peach cobbler. My Host invited another friend for dinner which was a delicious spaghetti bolognese. They both really enjoyed my cobbler and even asked for the recipe, which is always a good sign.
The next day, my Host took me to see Chirk Castle with its famous white gates with a “bloody hand” on top and to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal. This was one of the highlights of my weekend because I was able to cross the aqueduct. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a sight to see. The day I was there it was incredibly windy, but I made it across! Afterwards, we went to lunch and had homemade mac & cheese, which was of course amazing. I left for London around 18:00 which looking back was a bit late, but I just didn’t know when a proper time to leave was.
Overall, I had a great weekend with my Host. She truly included me into her way of living and I got a full sense of what it is like to live in Britain, especially in a little town in Wales. Being an American, I felt like our cultures were very similar but I still felt like I learned interesting things about the way of life in the area. Somethings I really enjoyed learning about was the history of Wales and how most people born and raised in Wales speak Welsh first before English. So when visiting, you will see road signs translated in Welsh and English. Also, you are able to make this weekend what you want it to be, so if you want to see a certain spot or learn more about the family, then that is what this weekend is all about.
My biggest advice for anyone thinking about using Host UK is to go for it! It is only a weekend and you can use the time to learn about a culture different from your own. You never know what you could get out of it until you try it.
Bonus picture of Duty after her walk!