Tuesday, October 4, 2011

International students develop bonds with U.S. host families

Published: October 3, 2011
Spending time at a U.S. university doesn’t always bridge the gap between college life and a U.S. family experience, but OU’s exchange students are trying to find that missing piece with host families.

OU’s Friends to International Students program offers exchange students the opportunity to develop relationships with volunteering American families they don’t live with. Families serve as hosts for one semester, but can continue for the full academic year, according to the program’s website.

Benedikt Kaczmar, a German aerospace engineering graduate student, said he got involved so he could get a closer look at real American culture.

“I really like my host family, and the fact that we are several exchange students in the same family, we all get really close very rapidly,” Kaczmar said. “Also, I love having a host little brother to fool around with.”

Kaczamr said he decided to join a host family, the Robertsons, because he wanted to experience special family events such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

“I know I don’t have to attend to all activities they offer us. This way, it’s not too time consuming, and I have great experiences.” Kaczmar said. “For Halloween we’re going to go pumpkin-carving and trick-or-treating.”

And in some host families, the perks don’t stop with shared holidays.

“I wasn’t expecting it, but they drive us every week to Walmart and offered to drive us everywhere. They also offered us a welcome gift with a lot of OU school material, candies and even postcards,” Kaczmar said.

For Cyrielle Guillaume, a French foreign language student and Amélie Plot, a French law student, the experience was about more than a few gifts.

“When we arrived, they gave us everything their previous host students left: microwave, toaster, plates, silver wear ... a whole kitchen basically,” Plot said.

The two French students even had the chance to contact their host family before arriving at OU.

“A friend of ours was already in the family last year. She told them we would come, and they contacted us as soon as she left. After corresponding all summer, we had dinner with them the day right after we landed,” Guillaume said.

Guillaume and Plot’s family hosts dinner and movie nights a couple times a month.

“They try to implement movie nights. We did a western-pizza night last week,” Plot said. “We didn’t want something too time consuming and this is just fine. We see each other twice a month, more would be too much.”

For one host parent, planning things like dinners and movie nights are just part of giving back to the international community.

Mary Price, Friends to International Students board member, has been hosting students for four years and was motivated to be a host after she was an exchange student in France.

“I was so impressed by the kindness that was shown to me. I wanted to repay this kindness,” Price said.

Host families can choose the nationality of the students they want to host.

“I have family from Germany and France, so I chose mainly French and German students,” Price said.

She said she tries to stay in touch with the students she has hosted and continues to maintain those relationships.

“One of them calls us when she has problems because she knows we can help her; one of them is like a son to us. We love them all and they love us,” Price said.

There are many reasons people decide to become a host family, but many desire to discover new cultures and meet students from across the world.

“[The Robertsons] told me they will try to visit all their host children during a world trip. I’m looking forward to see them then,” Kaczmar said.

LINK: To host an exchange student, complete the Host Family Application here or email Diana Tiffany at ddtiffany@ou.edu.

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