How hosting led Jane to a champagne cruise in Paris

Jane enjoying the champagne cruise Risa enjoying the champagne cruise Jane and Risa enjoying a trip to Paris

Jane lives in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire and registered as an EIL host in 2020. She heard of the organisation through the language department at the high school where she worked. Her first visitors, a Japanese brother and sister, arrived before the Covid pandemic lockdown. Since then, she has welcomed six other guests, usually students. We asked Jane to tell us about the friendship she has enjoyed with Risa from Tokyo, who stayed with her in 2022 on EIL’s Individual Homestay programme.

“Risa came to stay with me in November 2022. She was nearer my own age than the previous visitors and had made some major life changes which included plans to travel to Europe. England was her first stop having spent some years learning English, to expand her online food ingredients business, and, having only visited London briefly as a student some thirty years previously, this trip was a big deal for her.

As recommended by EIL, we had email contact before the visit, and I suggested a few local tourist attractions as we chatted online. Risa said she would love to visit Warwick Castle (which hadn’t been on the list) because she was a massive GOT fan. I had no idea what that meant but later found out I was in a minority as it meant Game of Thrones which was filmed in a similar location.

Risa flew in from Tokyo to Heathrow faced with the daunting task of finding her way to Birmingham International train station. I always bring my little Westie, Pearl to meet guests as I feel it’s easier to spot a dog in a crowd than a host! On the drive home, Risa told me she was feeling very nervous as this would be a very new experience for her.

As a host, you really do things that enrich your life

Unlike previous hosting, I have since retired and was able to offer to take Risa sightseeing which was very useful for sites where public transport was limited. We really enjoyed each other’s company. She was very easy to accommodate, and I enjoyed being a tourist myself and visiting places I hadn’t been to since my children were small. I had mentioned when we had our initial online contact that I was planning to see The Nutcracker performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet at some point and perhaps Risa would like to see it too. She did and she really enjoyed it. Risa also travelled to Bath independently to meet a business contact who was a chef whom she knew through her food business.

I took Risa to Worcester, and we visited the Royal Worcester Porcelain Works. She was particularly interested in the Japanese-inspired tableware. When we walked down Worcester High Street, I noticed the door to the Guildhall was open, so we went inside. There, another visitor insisted we went upstairs to see the magnificent painted ceiling, which I had never seen before, and it was marvellous. We also went to the Cathedral and heard the choir rehearsing, and it made me think that sometimes we don’t do the things on our own doorstep. It reminded me that as a host you really do things that enrich your own life.

We cooked together and Risa prepared me some great Japanese vegetarian food. She was particularly fond of my floral placemats, so when she left, I gave her a set. When she got back to Tokyo, Risa sent me a photograph of them on her own dining table. Risa left my home after a week and met up in London with a friend from Tokyo to stay for a week there.

In early 2023, Risa contacted me to tell me that she was planning another trip to Europe in the summer, and asked whether I would like to join her in Paris for few days. I’ve not done much travelling before, due to various family commitments and had never been to Paris. I felt so thrilled, so honoured that she had asked me and so excited because we had got on so well.

We shared ideas before the trip and found that we agreed on the things we really wanted to see. A real culture fest! I was telling my hairdresser about our plans, and she said, “You must go on a river cruise along the Seine.” I had a look online and there were so many to choose from! So, while I booked a couple of restaurants Risa booked our Air B&B and said she would arrange the river cruise.

I’ve booked us the Champagne Cruise, Jane!

Over three days in Paris, we managed to fit in visits to the Palace of Versailles, the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. Risa is a big fan of the romantic drama Emily in Paris and we found the Wall of Love in Montmartre that is featured in the series. Risa had her photograph taken there and chatted with other fans of the show. We seemed to meet friendly enthusiastic people wherever we went, at home as well as Paris.

We both agreed the highlight of the trip was the cruise that Risa had organised. When we arrived on the boat, we were offered a glass of champagne to welcome us aboard. The waiter soon came around to pour us another glass but I said, “No thanks” as I don’t like to mix my drinks, to which Risa said, “But I’ve booked us the Champagne Cruise, Jane!” Even now, on reflection, I feel quite emotional because that trip to Paris was so unexpected, I never thought I would be on a champagne cruise along the Seine in August with a Japanese friend. It was just magical. And, yes, I did drink more champagne!

We still keep in regular contact, and I count Risa as a dear friend.

Before hosting Risa, I had no particular interest in Japan, but meeting her has stimulated that interest in me. I have learnt so much about the spiritual and cultural experiences of Japanese people and my ambition now is to visit Risa in Japan at some point in the not-too-distant future.

I have really valued my experience as a host and have found the experience stimulating and enriching.

Thank you.”