Next month my wife and I will be living with a graduate student from Kathmandu, Nepal in south Asia. We'll also be living with students from Japan and China. In the past, we've lived with students from South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Argentina. Yet our passports have expired, we won't be getting on an airplane, and we'll be sleeping in our own bed every night. How can we do this?
We don't go to the students' homes. The students come to our home. We're a host family for international students attending the University of Oregon through the Friendship Foundation for International Students (FFIS) and the U of O's American English Institute (AEI). The University of Oregon has a rapidly growing enrollment of international students from all over the world, but especially from China.
The FFIS homestay program is for newly arrived international students who will be attending the University of Oregon's regular classes. They stay with local host families for 4-6 days before moving to permanent housing in dormitories or apartments. FFIS is a local non-profit founded in 1949 to encourage meaningful interactions between U of O international students and residents of Eugene and Springfield. The FFIS newsletters help to show how FFIS is fulfilling their mission.
The AEI homestay program is for students who come to the U of O for intensive English language training at the American English Institute. Students pay a stipend to live with local host families for one or more terms. They are encouraged to participate in family activities. The AEI homestay family handbook does a good job of explaining the role and responsibilities of being a homestay family.
We hosted the three students in this picture over five years ago and they're a good example of the diverse and positive experiences we've had as a home stay family.
1. Maguette was a Fulbright Scholar from Senegal in west Africa. Senegal's primary languages are French and Wolof, except for two regions where English is primary. Maguette lived with us as an AEI student for a term, moved to an apartment, but visited for holidays and dinner frequently. He loves garlic corn and tea with lots of sugar in it. Maguette came back for additional studies a few years ago, returned home, and may return for a month-long visit in September. We stay in touch with him regularly by Facebook. He has a laugh like comedian Eddie Murphy, is like a son to us, and calls us "Mom" and "Dad".
2. Yayoi is from Japan, stayed with us as an FFIS homestay student, and then we moved her into the dorm. She'd frequently come over with her friends for dinner or holidays. I can still remember helping her move stuff into various suitcases at the Eugene Airport to meet weight limitations. She still sends us handmade Christmas gifts every year.
3. Ali is from Saudi Arabia and a father of four. Like Maguette, he still calls us "Mom" and "Dad." He loves cheese and Mom's garlic bread. I later wrote a recommendation to help him get accepted into a graduate school in Paris. He has sent flowers to my wife on Mother's Day and we enjoy when he calls us from France or Saudi Arabia to exchange news about each other's lives.
Each student we've hosted is different and leads to a unique set of experiences for them and us. They return home with fond memories of us and their time in Eugene and western Oregon. Several have returned, or are planning to return, for visits. They have become a part of our "extended family" and soon we'll have "sons" from Nepal, China, and Japan to add to our family.
Rick Obst is an Arizona native who moved to Eugene, Oregon in 2005 and fell in love with the verdant Pacific Northwest. He enjoys photography and discovering the many people, places, and events that make this part of the world so special.
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