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Being a Pathfinders Host: Frequently Asked Questions

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Who volunteers to be a host?

The College is grateful to a wide-ranging group of Old Members resident in the United States, Canada, Asia and Mexico who are willing to be a host to Pathfinders when they are visiting in the host's area of the country. Some hosts are retired, some are in the middle of their careers, others are just a few years out of Balliol. Other factors vary as well, including sex, marital status, income, profession and nationality. Most of the hosts are native-born to the country, but not infrequently the host may be an Old Member of Balliol originally from Britain or elsewhere who is working and living there either permanently or on a short-term contract.

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What is a host expected to do?

The primary thing a host is asked to do is to provide hospitality to one or more Pathfinders during the summer, when and if it is convenient to the host. Former Pathfinders reporting on their experience of the programme frequently cite the strong value they attach to meeting Old Members of Balliol and having the opportunity to visit their homes and meet their friends and family. From the College's side, the contact that is made between these recently graduated Balliol students and our Old Members abroad is considered one of the primary reasons we are enthusiastic about supporting the programme.

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What do you mean by hospitality?

The minimum definition is simply a place to spend the night and this is greatly appreciated by the Pathfinders. They travel on a decent but limited budget and try to watch their expenses. If they stayed in hotels (and especially in the large cities) their funds would quickly disappear. Also, as any business person knows, staying in motels or hotels week in and week out can become a soulless experience. The versatility of youth is demonstrated by the fact that they return home just as excited to report on their enjoyment of staying in someone's one-bedroom apartment and being given the sofa bed in the living room as on staying in someone's comfortable, many-roomed suburban home.

Some of our hosts lead very hard-working lives and may simply tell a Pathfinder who wants a bed, 'Here are the keys, this is where you are sleeping, come and go as you please.' They might add, 'Come down to my office tomorrow lunchtime and I'll buy you lunch.' More typically, the Pathfinder arrives in town and is expected before dinner in the evening, they are given a meal and shown their room, and they have a bit more initial contact with the host. They are incorporated into the host's life on a temporary basis, not unlike the pattern of entertaining family members or friends from out of town who come to stay. Invariably, if the host is at work during the week they might suggest some things the Pathfinder would like to do in the area and how they can best navigate what they would like to do on their own. It is not unusual for a host's partner or spouse to end up being as strong or a stronger host than the Balliol Old Member.

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How many nights do the Pathfinders stay?

The Pathfinders are instructed not to wear out their welcome by staying too many nights. The usual stay is between one to three nights maximum with one host. If the Pathfinder is interested in a particular subject that can only be pursued at length in a specific area, requiring more than a two- or three-day stay, it would not be unusual for them to either move on to another host in the area or find their own accommodation in a youth hostel or modest hotel.

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What other things might the host do to help?

Each Pathfinder will have his or her specific interests in learning more about the ideas and institutions of the host's country. If you are host to a Pathfinder and discover you share an interest, and you would like to help him or her pursue that interest, that would be greatly appreciated. One Pathfinder several years ago had studied Classics at Balliol and wanted to discover how the subject is taught at high-school level in the United States or Canada. In that instance a host was willing to introduce her to a Latin teacher in a local public school and arrange for her to attend one of the teacher's classes. In 2004, a Pathfinder who was studying to become a medical doctor and specialise in plastic surgery was enabled by a host in a large metropolitan area to observe reconstructive surgery performed by a leading children's specialist in the field. These are just two examples of the sort of help a host might want to provide. However, some of the best memories Pathfinders bring home involve conversations over a drink or a meal with an Old Member about 'what Balliol used to be like' or 'what did "life after Balliol" mean to you when you were just starting out [like the Pathfinder] in trying to choose a career'.

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Do I have to host all the Pathfinders each year?

Not unless you want to. You decide the number of Pathfinders you are willing to invite in a given summer. You do not need to decide this in advance; you can simply determine each request as it suits you. (It is helpful if the College knows in advance if there are periods when you are most likely to be receptive to playing host or if there are periods when you are definitely not available.) You do not have to be available as a host every summer. You may want to be a host this coming summer but not the following one. Again, if you let us know in advance a summer you would prefer not to be a host, that allows us to temporarily remove your name from the list so that you are not contacted.

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What do you tell the Pathfinders about contacting hosts?

Here are some of the important points we try to make to the Pathfinders before they leave England:

  • Try to organise at least one or two definite places to stay on arrival before your departure so that you start your journey with some initial security of a place to stay, and so you are not having to sort that out at the same time as adjusting to a new environment and recover from any jet lag.
  • The host is doing you a favour. He or she more than likely has a busy work and social life. It is the summer. The host may be able to offer you hospitality but it is also likely the host will be on holiday for some of the summer and you will need to explore alternative arrangements in the area either with another host or on your own.
  • If there are seven or eight Pathfinders, do not all arrive in the same city at the same time and expect sufficient willing hosts for all of you. Discuss amongst yourselves your travel arrangements so that you do not follow the same path and exhaust your collective possibilities all at one time.
  • Plan in advance. If you are in one city or area and plan to move on to another area or region, contact a potential host for your next stop enough in advance so that the host has sufficient time to prepare for you or, if the host is unavailable, you have time to find other accommodation.
  • If you are travelling with another Pathfinder, it is up to the host to tell you whether he or she is willing to put you both up or would prefer to have only one Pathfinder stay at a time.
  • The Pathfinders programmes do not allow you to ask hosts to put up your boyfriend or girlfriend or any other friend who is not a Pathfinder also.
  • Common sense and courtesy should prevail at all times. If you need to use a telephone to make a collect call or would like to use the washing machine and dryer, ask the host for permission. Observe the house rules. Inform your host when you plan to depart and be as close to schedule as possible in regard to arrival and departure times.

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Have the Pathfinders got enough money to travel for several weeks on their own?

Each Pathfinder is given a round-trip airline ticket and sufficient maintenance allowance to travel for four to eight weeks (the length depends on which programme they are on). If they budget carefully, the Pathfinders should all be fine financially. A host may notice that a Pathfinder seems unduly frugal. More likely than not, this behaviour is not due to insufficient resources; rather, the Pathfinder is simply trying to save and conserve as much income as possible - especially in the first part of their excursion and given that this might be a first experience of prolonged travel on a limited budget. It is not expected that the host should be put 'out of pocket' for the Pathfinder beyond the normal limits of hospitality.

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What about emergencies?

The Pathfinders are encouraged to stay in touch with their own families back home. In addition, they have been encouraged to contact the College should something go seriously wrong during their travels. Their College contacts are:

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What is the best way for the Pathfinders to contact me?

If you have email, that is often the quickest and most efficient way for them to contact you. Otherwise, they would have your telephone number on the list the College provides for them.

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Who do I contact if I have more questions?

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Aria Johnston by telephone or email address by telephone (+44 (0)1865 277636) or email (aria.johnston@balliol.ox.ac.uk).

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