International Students find home away from home

Written by Vaseela.

Tick…Tick…Tick... it’s late at night. She has to wake up early the next day for college but sleep won’t come.

She doesn’t feel it during the day and most nights she’s fine. But tonight it’s different.

This was the kind of night where she could feel it creeping towards her; loneliness, the ache to see her family back home in Indonesia.

19 year old Tiffany William is an international student who is a part of the homestay program, where students have the option to stay with a host family rather than to live in the dorms.

For William, living with her host family, in Lynnwood, is full of comforts and advantages. She gets three square meals a day, privacy while studying, and a great host mom to help her out when she needs it.

Her sole comfort is that she talks with her family in Indonesia everyday.

“I talk with them a lot so it’s doesn’t feel like we’re in different countries.” William said. “I feel like I am still in Indonesia but just in a different house.”

But on some nights she can’t escape the weight of truth that her family is half a world away, which is when she misses them most.

Ever since she was young her parents wanted her and her siblings to study abroad. While William’s brother and sister studied in Australia, her mom wanted her to go to America, to try a new place.

Being serious with her education, William didn’t want to live in the dorms in fear of party animal roommates.

“I don’t like crowded places” said William. “From what I heard about dorms, they like to party.”

From there began William’s journey. William first had to go to an agency, where she filled out an application describing herself. Using that information, the agency does its best to match the student with a fitting host family.

While there are some cases where a student and his/her host family have problems, William had a pleasant transition into her life here in America.

She found herself with a nice host mom who helped her when times were difficult, whether it was adjusting to the culture or stressed out from school.

The host mom’s involvement didn’t waver when William got a roommate; another international student from Indonesia.

“She would ask us how we’re doing throughout the day and such,” said William. “She’s pretty involved.”

Unfortunately not all homestay students are this lucky. The roommate William acquired had transferred from another host family who pretty much neglected her.

Clarissa Florencia spoke of her first host family in a grim way.

“They had a lot of rules…we [her roommate and her] could only eat from a certain shelf in the fridge,” said Florencia. They were fed mostly frozen dinners, or food from a can or a box.

Another problem Florencia faced was the way her host parents blamed her for everything, including a leak in the bathroom that existed since before she had arrived.

Once she changed host families, her life has improved dramatically and she is much happier.

According to Luke Botzheim, the housing director, approximately 500-700 students come into the homestay program per year.

Perry Gibson, the host family coordinator, arranges students’ placements into homes, using their information to see which host family would best fit them.

Botzheim believes that this program is very successful, and that about 90 percent of students placed into their specific host families turn out to have pleasant relationships.

The other 10 percent of the time, students have to be moved either because they cause too much problems, or if students and host families can’t adapt with each other.

Misunderstandings often come up in any family, but between international students and host families it is higher.

A lot of students coming from overseas have high expectations of their host families. Back home many students had servants in their homes to help with cooking and cleaning. But once they arrive here they are surprised of the new things expected of them. They have to be more independent here than they have been, back home. (Botzheim)

On the same note, host families think that students are rich when they claim to have servants back home, when it is just the norm in their cultures. (Botzheim)

But most students work it out and learn to balance things out by coming to an agreement with their host family.

Apart from misunderstandings on both ends, another factor that students and host families have to overcome is the big culture shock that they both face.

When students first move in with their host families, they have a lot to get used to in terms of culture.

“Everything can make them [the students] unhappy” Botzheim said.

The host family is also faced with culture shock, from the students’ behaviors to their speech. It is a lot to get used to. (Botzheim)

When the program first started students were allowed to move out of their host family’s homes anytime and most of the students would move out after the first month, and stay with a friend who is from the same country as them. (Botzheim)

For those students homesickness and culture shock would lead them to move out. The disadvantage for those students were that their English would fail to improve as they could talk to their friends in their own language, and it took longer for them to get used to the culture here. (Botzheim)

Later on in the program, it was made mandatory that the students should have to stay at least three months with their host family, before they could move out.

Once this rule was put into effect, the program saw less students moving out even after three months, because by then they have given their host families a chance, and have learned to adjust into their new lives. (Botzheim)

William thought she knew what she was getting into when she signed up for the homestays program, but she didn’t realize that she would get a great host mom who was very involved, or nice host siblings whom she could befriend.

She hasn’t just left her family back home in Indonesia. She has gained a new one here.

-Vaseela

Published in The Triton Review, Vol. 29, Issue 2, May 13, 2013

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