When more than 60 international and global nomad first-years begin their Grinnell College careers this fall, community members will be ready to welcome the students to their new home.
Through early July, the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) is actively recruiting new volunteer host families, who may be any family type or life stage: single people, couples, or larger families; young adults to retirees. The only requirement is a desire to meet and befriend an international student.
For Tefiro Serunjogi ’15, “the host family program is probably the best support system available to international students at Grinnell.” He continues, “Whether it’s just getting off campus for a few hours or having a home-cooked meal, having a host family has certainly gone a long way in helping fill the void left by being so far away from home.”
The students don’t live with their host families, but still develop close relationships. "My host family is truly ‘my family away from my family,’ and we are very close to each other,” says Anastasios Papachristoudis ’13. “They showed me around Iowa and they invite me to join their American family traditions, such as Thanksgiving dinner and Easter.”
“Our interactions have taught me so much about life in the United States. My host family has surprisingly been the source of a lot of my newly acquired knowledge of U.S. history, politics, and geography,” says Serunjogi. Hosts also introduce the students to local traditions, such as the ever-popular Iowa State Fair, and include them in everyday activities like children’s school functions and fishing, shopping, or going to the movies.
Students, for their part, invite families to campus events and provide an insider’s view to College life as well as to their home countries, frequently helping build relationships between their hosts and friends and family back home. “I am glad that my host family has built a great relationship with my family in Uganda and I now feel that I am part of one large family that’s separated only by distance and time,” says Serunjogi.
Many also relish the chance to play the host themselves. “One of the happiest moments we shared was when they visited me in Greece last summer and I had the opportunity to host them and show them around my city," Papachristoudis says.
Brenda Strong, staff member in the OISA, describes it as a win-win situation, as the students learn more about American culture and host families learn more about the student’s home culture. The office supports host families with activities and a handbook with tips and guidelines to make the experience a success.
“Being a host family has broadened our world and created lifelong connections,” says Rachel Bly ’93, Grinnell's director of conference operations and events. “Our son has learned so much from his host ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ and looks at the world around him both globally and locally. Our family has been enriched in enumerable ways, and we know these relationships will last a lifetime.”
Close to 200 students at Grinnell have host families, and Karen Edwards, director of international student affairs, says they are always looking for new families. “It is valuable,” she says, “to consider the host family role not only as an opportunity for cultural exchange but also as a form of service to our students from abroad.”