NWCCI participants always praise Americans for their willingness to reach out and help others without asking for anything in return, their willingness to volunteer in their communities, and their selfless acceptance of people from other cultures into their homes. Our friendship families embody all of the values that NWCCI participants cherish so dearly in Americans. When we reached out to the friendship families of the NWCCI to share stories, thoughts and memories about their time with the Northwest CCI program, we received some great responses. This is a long blog because there are so many things to highlight about the contributions of NWCCI friendship families. We cannot say thank you enough for all that you contributed to making our students’ exchange experiences the best they could be!
The friendship family program is perhaps the best way we achieve our dual goals of sharing the cultures of the United States with our students and creating opportunities for our students to share their cultures with people in the U.S. As Kathy Schumer, a friendship family volunteer, explained, “We have always loved hosting international students. We feel that we gain just as much as they do. Our family has grown because of hosting students from all over the world and the world has become much smaller to us.”
Friendship families have been one of the best ways to introduce program participants to the wide range of traditions and cultures that make up the United States and programs like NWCCI one are not possible without the generous help from the local communities where they are located. The local families who have volunteered their time to serve as a friendship family included students in family events and activities throughout his or her time here. Some host families have even been able to visit their exchange students in their home countries! Kathleen Beaumont, in the photo below, took a road trip across India with her NWCCI students from years past. You can read her story, also on the NWCCI blog.
We asked current and past host families why they chose to open up their homes to host an NWCCI participant:
- “Because I was treated with so much kindness and hospitality when I was an international student in other countries. I want international students here to have an amazing experience like I had.” – Friendship Family
- “Because as a mother I love helping young people, and have a keen awareness of how difficult it must be for their parents to let them go overseas. I hope to stand in the shoes of their mother caring for them in the way that I would hope someone would do for my sons were they far from home. I also love to show them the beauty of our land, and the hospitality of our people. I am very proud of my country and want to overcome any negative stereotypes they may have about the US.” ~Deborah Elliot
- “To explore other cultures while still being at home. Make connections around the world – person to person.” ~ Harriet Holmgren
- “For a couple of reasons. One is that I am hoping I can change the world’s negative perception of the US one student at a time. If they are treated like family and they see that Americans are not what they have believed them to be and if I can change just one of their minds then I feel like in some small way I am helping to change the world. On another note I cannot afford to take my grandchildren around the world to learn about the different way others live and believe so I’m bringing the world to them.” ~ Gale Christin
And the best part?
- “Giving my children an opportunity to meet people from other places around the world.” ~ Friendship Family
- “The opportunity to share our lives with bright young internationals is an enriching experience for us, fun for all including our family, and puts us in touch with students around the world even after they return home.”
“Learning and thinking outside the box or assumptions about a country or culture or religion. Bias busting.” ~Friendship Family
- “Getting to know someone from another country and realizing that they really are just like we are. They have hopes and dreams and just want a better life.” ~Kathy Schumer
- “Staying connected with the students so they don’t feel they are alone since they are so far from their families.” ~ Debbie Davidson
Across the three colleges that make up NWCCI, friendship families said their motivation was the sincere desire to learn about other cultures, make connections, and meet new people. Students continuously praised their friendship and host families’ kindness and generosity during their stay in the U.S., offering them the comfort and support of a family when they were so far from home.
- “I have learned that love is love and family is family no matter where we are from. No matter what religion. These students come here often from war torn or poverty riddled countries. They may have issues with their governments and don’t always agree with the politics they are faced with. They come here in hopes of making a change in their world. They are often scared of what lies ahead during their time here or how they will be perceived but they hit it head on and achieve more than what they could have imagined.”~ Gale Christin
- “The relationship I had with my friendship family helped me not to feel homesick and I got the chance to know more about U.S. culture and to share my own culture with them. My friendship family also helped me to adjust to life in the U.S.” ~ Rosemund Djan from Ghana
- “Because I often host kids from other countries I loved it when they all got together and shared stories about each other’s countries. I love watching them interact and how close they became in a short amount of time. I love learning about the different cultures.” ~ Gale Christin
- “Every single NWCCI student I’ve met, in this group, is fascinating and has such a positive outlook. It is very refreshing. I look forward to discussions with them.” ~ Maria and James Thompson
- “We did a number of fun things together and I learned a lot about U.S. culture through them. They took me to a baseball match in Everett. They invited me to their house for Thanksgiving. They taught me the reason why they celebrate Thanksgiving and how Americans use food such as turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, to celebrate Thanksgiving. They also asked me to decorate the Christmas tree with them; every ornament they hung on the tree had a special meaning. I sometimes slept at their house, I got the chance to meet their families and I had fun with their grandkids.” ~ Rosemund Djan from Ghana
Friendship families often included their exchange students in activities their family was already doing. Typical American pastimes such as: attending high school and elementary school plays and sporting events, cooking lessons, picking and decorating Christmas trees, Thanksgiving dinners, meeting to pass out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters, camping trips, attending family cookouts and dinners, hiking and berry picking, which were all new and exciting for exchange students!
“Our first students were four Egyptian men (they really came as a foursome, though only one was assigned to us). We laughed and laughed together. I took them hiking, along with my dog (they had no interest in bonding with our dog initially–cultural reasons). We got to a tricky/icy part of the hike and got a bit spread out. My dog kept going back and forth; back and forth to be sure everyone was OK, not leaving anyone out. I think this was a reassurance for them in a tricky situation and they were so very impressed with our dog. The talked about it for weeks, and their attitude towards dogs really changed then.” ~ Kara Black
What some people may not initially realize, is that even simple day-to-day life in the U.S. is quite different than the life some of these students know. Friendship families often get to experience a student’s first time in an American grocery store with them, or help them set up their first cell phone account. Sharing stories with students about simple things about their job or helping them make decisions at the grocery store may be more interesting than you would expect. Some friendship families are amazed at some of the issues that arrive with students. Often between cultural misunderstandings and general stress.
“Students have crises while they are in the U.S.! These can range from ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ to infectious diseases to emergency surgery to homesickness to bicycle accidents. Be prepared for the possibility of spending a night in a hospital emergency department, listening and discussing the sadness of being away from one’s mother back home, repairing punctured tires and/or egos, or delivering a hot meal to a sick student. All of these occurrences and others can lead to intense bonding between you and your student and treasured memories, or they can lead to feelings of “being shortchanged” when your idealized vision of hosting gets burnished by reality.” ~ Greg and Catalina Hope
Some of the friendship families favorite moments included:
“One year a couple of NWCCI students were helping out with the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner. Neither one had cooked before and we decided it would be fun to get them involved. I handed a lemon and a microplane zester to one of them showing them how to use it to remove the peel from the lemon. He very meticulously worked on that lemon and brought it to me for approval. The lemon was perfectly peeled with not a bit of yellow peel remaining. When I asked him where the peel was, he said he had thrown it away. Yikes, I forgot to mention that the peel or zest was what I wanted, not the lemon itself.” ~ Friendship Family
“My favorite story was when I took my student, Talal, for his first long bike ride. As we were preparing to go he put his ear buds in for his iPod. Being a seasoned cyclist I said “Honey, you should never listen to music when you ride.” He assured me that he always does. I said “Well, it’s dangerous because you can’t hear cars coming, but it’s up to you I guess.” There was a long pause. Then respect for his elders must have won over youthful determination because he took them out and put them away. There was silence. I laughed and said “Is this our first fight?” He said, “No, it’s our first disagreement.” I laughed and we got on our bikes and rode off to the country and ended up having a great time. He still listens to music when he rides solo, and I don’t, but that difference of opinion has had no bearing on our respect and love for each other. A good lesson for all of us to learn!” ~ Deborah Elliott
We heard of students being taken on short trips to unique destinations that the college doesn’t go to, such as the Olympic Peninsula, San Juans, Portland by train, or Mt. Baker alpine hiking in September. Some friendship families organized group outings for larger groups of NWCCI participants, too. Angela Ryle from India and her friendship family in Lakewood, Washington share a unique story which you can read about on the blog, and also traveled to Disneyland together! “We wanted to expose Angela to the very best in American culture and experience. The school did an excellent job in that regard but we were happy to add to that: holidays, birthdays and other events in our home; a trip to Disneyland, etc.” friendship family Jim Riede, explains.
Some students enjoy learning about American politics, and one friendship family took a student from Egypt to march in a city parade with a candidate for Congress and the student had a wonderful time. When Rachelle Leigh McGinnis’ student expressed interest in how American politics work, she took him on a tour of the Washington State Legislature and to meet a local State Senator.
Students often admit that their favorite thing about America is their willingness to volunteer regularly, something they plan to bring back to their home country. They also regularly remark on the kindness Americans offer to strangers, while expecting nothing in return.
“My friendship family has given me so much. This is the first time I have been away from my own family and I thought this would make me worried, stressed and homesick, but my friendship family has never allowed me to feel that I am away from my family. In addition, I had never celebrated my birthday in my entire life. Just a couple of weeks ago, my friendship family gave me a surprise birthday party with some of my program participants. “ ~ Hafeez Rehman from Pakistan
One friendship family notes a cherished moment she hadn’t expected:
“When a chance smell of an herb in our garden reminded [her NWCCI student] of home and his mother. It was very touching. As a mother, it was a beautiful thing to see. At that moment I felt very connected to his mother, so far away and living such a different life.” ~ Harriet Holmgren
Many of the nuances that students experience later become cherished memories.
- “From the very first month in US my friendship family invited me to their home for dinner, to go shopping, to celebrate holidays with them, to share their culture with me and to know something about my culture. Moreover, they were the people who really wanted to listen to me and respect my ideas and feelings. Also, they helped me to understand about this new and unknown place and gave me the things that I needed to accomplish my aims. Among these things is support, love, time and care. They taught me values of American culture, and they directed me on the ways to adjust here.” ~ Shahida from Pakistan
- “A significant number of our visiting NWCCI students come from Muslim countries, and we consider it our duty to improve the image of our country, especially in the eyes of students from countries in the Middle East, and to present a more realistic view of our culture and citizens than sometimes appears in international news media. We may not be ending wars overseas, but we hope that our humble efforts contribute to greater understanding with our global neighbors and less enmity in the future.” ~Catalina and Greg Hope
Friendship families always expressed their amazement for participants’ great ambitions and all they intended to achieve during their 10-month stay and offered their full support.
Thank you friendship families for making the Northwest Community College Initiative experience possible and so memorable, you truly do make a huge difference in participants’ time in the United States.
“I consider myself lucky to have these people in my life. If I didn’t have this family, I might have not succeeded here. Now, about this family I can say that they are like my real parents and siblings and I will be missing and loving them forever. With them, I have learned to share, to have fun, and to understand different points of views in different situations. I have my two sweet younger sisters Lena and Ava with whom I have laughed, and played games; these are the moments I will always remember.” – Shadia from Pakistan
The Northwest Community College Initiative is funded by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs Exchange Programs. There are many opportunities sponsored by the Department of State for both American and international students, and many volunteer or host family opportunities across the U.S. Visit their webpage to find opportunities that might be located in your area.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The opinions expressed in this blog by writers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Northwest Community College Initiative program, Edmonds Community College, Whatcom Community College, Pierce College, the United States Department of State or any employee thereof. NWCCI and Edmonds Community College are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied by the students or bloggers.