Host Family Program pairs international students with Hanover families

By Carrie Gavit ‘14

During his first Christmas Eve in the U.S, Junwen Zhu spent an evening filled with warmth, sharing a meal in his host family’s home, along with his closest friends. Associate Professor of Philosophy Jared Bates and his family created a special memory for Zhu that was unlike any holiday the international student had ever celebrated in China.

Zhu, who’s from Jiujiang, and Bates were part of Hanover’s Host Family Program that has touched the lives of international students by providing an opportunity for them to have a second family to call their own.

“Last year (2011) was our first year, and we joined for a number of reasons,” said Bates. “For one, we have adopted a son from China. Having a transnational, transracial adoption in our family makes us want to expose all our kids to other cultures and languages. I hope our student felt really warmly welcomed to the United States and to the Hanover community by being placed with us.”

Many of the International students joined the Host Family Program for the same reason families applied – to receive and provide a comfortable, home-like environment and to be exposed to a new culture quickly.

“It was the first time I came to America, and I wanted to make new friends and get used to a new environment quickly” said Zhu, who joined the program during his first year at the College. “I still keep in contact with my host family, and I plan on being a part of the program for the rest of my time at Hanover.”

One of the challenges anyone would face when traveling or living in another country is understanding the social nuances or particulars about the language, which the program helps to address.

“I knew I could get advice on how to know when things are rude and on how to communicate with people,” said sophomore Eliza Bui from Hanoi, Vietnam. “I would get to know a culture better, and, not only would I learn how to behave, but also mentally get used to being half a world away from my home.”

Director of Development Services Chris Schwing currently hosts junior Nardeen Turjman , a Palestinian from Jerusalem. Besides Turjman, she regularly gathers with students from Ghana such as senior Michael Asa Eck and Nana Abeeku Thompson ’12, junior Ron Kitcher-Pentey, sophomore Edwin Nartey and Qingjiao Meng ’12 from China.

“Qingjiao made me fried rice once,” said Schwing. “It was different — not like an American Chinese restaurant's fried rice — but good. It had both cucumbers and bacon in it.”

She added that her daughter, Katie, benefitted from Meng’s tutoring her in math for three years. The study sessions gave Schwing the opportunity to learn about the differences in parenting styles and the education system in China versus America.

Currently, there are 17 international students who have voluntarily chosen to participate in the Host Family Program. Based on a model he used at Marietta College, Director of Multicultural Affairs/International Program Taran McZee started off by interviewing interested Hanover families and spreading the word.

“I think it’s important for retention that (international students) can identify with someone who cares about them, their well-being (and) their success at Hanover,” he said. “At the same time, (it gives) the family an opportunity to experience some diversity that isn’t normally accessible. I think that helps on both ends for the family and the student.”

McZee added that there is no background check during the interview process, nor are families paid for hosting a student.

In addition to attending events such as Hanover’s International Banquet, the students spend most of their time bonding with their host families at their homes. They might cook traditional American food or cuisine associated with their student’s home country, or just drink tea and coffee in the living room while playing with the family’s dogs. No matter what the activity, students and their families always find time to spend with each other throughout the school year.

“We always have meals together, both in his house and at restaurants,” said Zhu. “We also went to the Indianapolis Zoo and the movie theater in Madison, (Ind.).”

Sue Fryback Tilley ’89, who serves as the Career Center assistant and who with her family hosts Bui and sophomore Christol Okeke from Nigeria, believes it’s important to give international students an environment in which they can feel at home.

“If I was sending my children half way around the world, I would want to know they had a support system. I want to provide that,” she said.

Besides giving Tilley the opportunity to share her motherly instincts with the students, the program exposes her two daughters to other countries and other cultures. Some of the group activities include watching movies, taking outings to the grocery store or traveling to places outside the Hanover-Madison, Ind. communities to expose the students to American city life.
Once they become comfortable with their new surroundings, many of the international students choose to keep close ties with their host family, even after they leave Hanover.

“I would strongly suggest future International students to join the program because it will make them feel better when they are (homesick),” said Okeke. I will absolutely stay in contact with my host family after graduation because now they are my family, too.”        
Junior Carrie Gavit is from Fishers, Ind. An English major, she edits the Career Center newsletter and is co-president of People for Peace.