Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Staying with an immigrant host family? No Problem!

I've heard it a billion times, usually with a sigh or huff of disappointment, My host family is from the Philippines*. I want a "real" American family. My host mother's English is hard to understand! I can understand the initial confusion when someone arrives to their host who doesn't look like the people we see in most movies from Hollywood. The popular stuff that makes it overseas can really distort the reality of how diverse the US is, and international students expecting a white (or black, I'll dole out the benefit of the doubt) American family are in for a surprise, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

*Over the 4 years at my school that found host families, the most common immigrant hosts were families from the Philippines. I'm not trying to disrespect our friends from the Philippines, just reporting the comments I actually heard.

I think these students are missing out on the fact that these host families who immigrated have experience similar to the students themselves. This is extremely valuable! If you find yourself paired up with an immigrant host family, you can ask questions like, "What made you decide to stay?" or "How difficult is it to get into the workforce (after university) as a foreigner?" and very relevant questions that the "real" American probably can't help you with.

Of course, students who are visiting for their first time may not be considered with making a long-term life in the US. Some people write off parts of their town as 'touristy' and will use their intimate knowledge of the city happenings as substitute. I took a 'Ride the Ducks' tour of Seattle after living there for more than 20 years and still learned stuff about my city! My family did this to welcome our newest member, who's from Cameroon.

Your native hosts will know routes and restaurant recommendations, but might not know about how to get around without a car. Some of my friends wrinkle their noses at the mention of taking the bus somewhere! How many foreign students enter the US with a car?

Ultimately, a good host family will be ready to give personal tours and explanations whatever generation of American they are. This is part of the agreement of hosting. However, an immigrant family's empathy can go a long way.

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