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Russ Bley (SLU Alumni)
My experience with the international student program has been very enriching. I am currently serving as the "father" to two "sons" from China and Korea while a third is studying abroad this year. The two who are now at SLU are Zhi, who is Chinese, and Jun, who is Korean.
I feel that we have shared so much together. We have run the gamut from my helping with speeding tickets(!) to our going to Cardinals and Billikens games and to celebrating a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday together. It is my fond hope and expectation that I will continue to maintain touch with my new family members after they graduate. I am hoping to visit with them in their home countries, and there seems to be a good possibility that they will stay here in St. Louis at least for a time after graduation. We have developed good, warm and loving relationships with each other. I am proud of these young men and feel extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity to welcome them into my life.
Debra Striler (SLU staff, Otolaryngology)
The Host Family Program is a tremendous resource for international students. The local families serve as friends and mentors that can help students navigate the many American things which might come up throughout their time in St. Louis.
When you are far from home, information on tasks such as getting a driver's license, buying a car or even something as simple as knowing where some great places to eat or vacation is extremely valuable. Additionally, by providing a home for international students, I've learned so much about their cultures and even a small part of their languages.
In the relationships that I've built with the students, I've been blessed to interact with such wonderful, nice, fun kids. They are always willing to learn new things and go new places. It's such a joy. We've enjoyed exploring Elephant Rocks State Park, visiting a turkey farm with thousands of turkeys over Thanksgiving, and going skeet shooting and snow skiing. Students have also really enjoyed all the events that the Host Family Program sets up, including theatre and bowling outings, trips to Cardinal and Billiken Games, and shows at the Muny. Almost all of these activities are opportunities they would not have had if they did not belong to the International Host Program at SLU.
The relationships I've made through this program will forever intertwine our lives together, even after they return to their homeland. It has changed my life in ways I cannot fully express.
Dr. Hal Bush (SLU faculty, English Department)
I still remember the first time we met Meng Meng. It was at the initial kick-off dinner to launch the SLU Host Family program in October 2011at the Busch Student Center. My wife Hiroko and I were very nervous to meet the student we were paired with, but we were probably nowhere near as nervous as Meng. Meng was anxious, of course, because we were here in St. Louis, where we make our home, while she was thousands of miles away from her home in Xian, China. We all seemed at the time painfully shy and maybe even a little panicky.
Despite our initial jumpiness as we fumbled around introducing ourselves and got to know each other, little did we realize that our initial shy conversations would become, over the next few years, a strong and very edifying friendship. By now we have learned that our rather quiet new acquaintance from China is actually a funny, charming chatterbox, a person whose warm spirit would become a real highlight of the next few semesters of working at SLU. And she's certainly become a part of our family, in more than just a simple way.
We've become close enough to spend time together well beyond the programming arranged by the Host Family Program. For instance, when Meng's mother travelled to Missouri last summer, we hosted a dinner party and got to know our new friend's family even more intimately. Or more recently, when Meng along with two students from China, one from Japan and one from Croatia came over to enjoy an Easter dinner together.
Another Easter has now come and gone, and another of our American holiday feasts has featured students from around the world, along with the ham, potatoes, carrots and deviled eggs! We are so blessed and honored that these wonderful international students would choose to spend time with us during on these festive occasions. And we owe a real debt of gratitude to the SLU Host Family Program, and especially to LuLu Dong, for putting it all together — and for adding one more member to our St. Louis family!
Julie Northrip (SLU Alumni)
In the past few years my family has gotten to spend time with several of Saint Louis University's international students through the Host Family Program. When I first read the email about this new opportunity I was excited to learn more. Both my husband and I have many childhood memories of spending time with international students and their families. Some of those friendships continued for many more years. We wanted our two young daughters to have similar experiences and the SLU host family program seemed ideal.
We attended an informational meeting, filled out our application and waited for the new school year to begin and to find out about our student. The first year we hosted a young woman from China. She and her boyfriend introduced us to their favorite place to eat Chinese food in St. Louis and we took them to Ted Drewes at Christmas time and enjoyed the neighborhood decorations. They probably thought we were crazy standing outside in the bitter cold with a large crowd and eating “ice cream!” In the spring they came to our youngest daughter's eighth birthday party and experienced all the excitement of a room full of young children playing party games.
The next year we were matched with a graduate student from Germany who was at SLU for just one semester. We took him ice skating on one of our first get-togethers and even though he had never ice skated; he got out on the ice with our daughters and followed their lead.
We were also able to show him sites in rural Missouri, taking him to a pumpkin farm and French Sainte Genevieve. As a theology student he was interested in talking about religion and faith in the United States. He went to church with us once and celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with us and our extended family.
The next semester we welcomed a young man from Saudi Arabia who had young sisters at home and so was glad to spend time with our two daughters. For his birthday we took him to the Hard Rock Café and then to see Disney on Ice. He was a real sport about that, taking pictures of the princesses on his phone and sending them to his sisters to see!
This school year we had four Chinese students at our home for Christmas dinner and two students for Easter lunch. While they knew nothing about Easter egg hunts, we had them fill the eggs with candy and help hide the eggs in the yard for the children.
There are times when our schedule and their schedules make it difficult to get together as often as we'd like. Fortunately, the Office of International Services plans and hosts several fun events each semester for the students and families. Having events on or near the campus makes it easier for the students to take time away from their studies. We've enjoyed many wonderful dinners, Chinese New Year celebrations, Cardinal games, bowling and a Billiken basketball game. As I write this we are looking forward to another Cardinal game and, in the summer, a trip to the Muny.
SLU's Host Family Program has provided our family with many wonderful opportunities and memories. We hope that the students have benefited as much as we have from these experiences.
Leslie Bracekett (SLU Alumni)
Two years ago, our family decided to become a Host Family for an international student at Saint Louis University. As an alumni, I thought this would be wonderful way to reconnect with my alma mater over the course of a year, as well as serve as an ambassador for both SLU and the St. Louis community. What sparked that decision? About the time I received an invitation to become a Host Family, our close friends became parents of a little girl they adopted from China. Our family's interest in world culture opened up in a very real way, which spurred my two teenagers to take a strong interest in discovering and learning about countries very far away.
It was exciting to learn that our international student this year, like last year, was from China! We were both nervous and excited to meet her at the kick-off party, but soon we were chatting and laughing, despite the occasional misunderstanding. It was a good beginning, and my daughters made a new friend. Over the course of the year, the monthly planned activities by the Office of International Studies were fun and engaging. In addition to visiting St. Louis landmarks and city neighborhoods, we've also invited our student, Jie'an, to our many family activities, such as choir concerts, soccer games and school plays. She loves and appreciates the opportunity to participate in some "typical" American activities.
Throughout this wonderful experience, we have had so much fun and discovered many commonalities as well as some differences between our countries, which just adds to our understanding of the world. I am glad that we stepped up and said "yes" to being a host family. I would highly encourage SLU families to consider participating and bless an international student, whose own family is very far away, with the gifts of friendship, hospitality and service. It is worth it!
Frozan Maqsoodi, Afghanistan
Living with a host family is one of the important aspects of studying abroad. It provides a smoother transition when trying to adapt to a new environment and culture.
As an international student, I found it easy to connect to my new community and get to know more people through host family program. I was introduced to a very big family that included many other international students. It was a wonderful experience meeting all the international students in my host family from different countries. Learning about all the different cultures and understanding them was very interesting. A highlight of the Host Family Program for me was when we all went together for an event, either for fun, entertainment, dinner or some other function. I loved spending time in a group with all of my host family members.
Jieqiong Ma, China
My friendship with Wendy, Blake and their baby girl Amelia started in the Host Family Program at Saint Louis University. It was the 2012 fall semester, the first semester I joined the Ph.D. program in the John Cook School of Business. Back then, I was still under culture shock — I couldn't communicate very well and avoid meeting new people, especially foreigners. But my first lunch with Wendy turned out quite well. She invited me to a restaurant close to campus and wanted to know everything about me. Wendy is a very nice person, always wearing a warm sunshine smile, and I like her very much. During lunch, I talked a lot about my life, my work and my family back in China, and I was not shy at all.
From then on, I went to many of the fantastic events scheduled by the Host Family Program — such as bowling, opera and picnics — and would occasionally get together with Wendy and her family at their house. There, I experienced my very first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and met other family members: Amelia's cousin Momo and her parents Alisa and John, Wendy's mother Mary, and Blake's parents Lisa and Chris. There were also many other friends who would come around her house, including Wendy's 16-year-old cat Oscar, who has accompanied Wendy since she was a college student. The sweet family feeling at Wendy's house comforted me a lot, especially when I missed my own parents so much.
My host family also witnessed my progress as an international student. Before, I seldom cooked at home, but living by myself, I had to learn how to cook. I invited my host family several times to my apartment and was glad that they liked the food I cooked for them. When I moved off-campus, Wendy and Blake drove their minivan to help me out. They were pleased to see that I got my first driver's license in United States, my first academic award as a Ph. D. student and my first relationship with a boy, whom they also liked. I wish they would always be there for my personal growth and life progression, and I'm sure they will. I feel lucky and grateful to have joined the Host Family Program at Saint Louis University and would recommend it to all international students.
Sutthida Phongphanngam, Thailand
I am very grateful to Carol and Bill for being my host family and for welcoming me into their home and family. They are wonderful. Their warm and welcoming atmosphere makes me never feel lonely even when I am so far away from home. I fully appreciate the various things they have done together for the last year and a half. They invited me to their home to celebrate holidays and cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal for me. They and their family members took care of me and made me feel right at home. Every time we met, they always treated me like their own daughter. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. For the rest of my life I will never forget them, my beloved host family, Carol and Bill.
Borhan Alhosseini, Iran
The Host Family program was a unique experience that helped me become familiar with not only the culture of American society, but also other countries. I had the chance to interact with many students, develop my communication skills and build a network of friends.
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