During Grinnell Family Weekend, the weekend of Sept. 25 to 27, students of the College spent time with their families to touch base after a month of classes. For many international students whose parents cannot as easily travel to campus, however, the weekend was spent with their host families.
“Host families” is the term given to families registered with the Friends of International Students (FIS) program. The title refers to the 146 families within the local Grinnell community who have offered to open their homes to the 200 participating international students. The main purpose of this program is to provide a support network for the students during their experience away from home, which includes helping international students deal with homesickness.
“As a first-year dealing with initial homesickness, it was great to have some ties with the Grinnell community outside of the campus,” said Avantika Johri ’18, who is from India.
Some students were surprised at the amount of support they received from the host families.
“I was very confused, especially for the first few months with them … I was not expecting that I actually could be a part of their family,” wrote Ibuki Ogasawara ’17, who is from Japan, by email. “Now, I can say that I’ve become a part of their family.”
Students’ experiences with their host families vary. Some, like Johri, meet periodically for meals and can learn some things about American family life.
“I talk with my host parents, play with their three adorable daughters and their dog Lucy,” she said. “The girls perform dance shows for me. It ends up being a lot of running around in parks, but it’s very refreshing to be a six-year-old again with the daughters! It’s a good break from adulthood.”
Other students had the opportunity to explore other parts of the United States with their host families.
“[I went to] Big Sky, [Mont.], where my host dad’s sister lives with her husband during winter and a part of Yellowstone in Montana,” Ogasawara wrote. “Big Sky is a ski resort and I had an amazing skiing experience.”
Ogasawara also went to Colorado and Wyoming. “My host mom’s brother and my host dad’s other sister live there,” he wrote. “I did horseback riding for the first time and I also went to Rocky Mountain National Park with them.”
The FIS program originally started out when members in the community helped international students by picking them up at the airport and helping them move into their dorms.
“As [the] international student enrollment has grown, as well as the infrastructure to support their initial arrival, the program has evolved into a friendship program,” said Karen Edwards, the Director of International Student Affairs and one of the chief coordinators of the FIS program.
The Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) matches FIS families with students based on information provided by both students and locals through an application form found on the Grinnell College website. These include information such as hobbies, dietary needs, number of pets, any siblings or children and religions, as well as additional information that makes it easier for the staff at the OISA to match students with members of the community.
By asking for these details, the OISA hopes to ensure that both student and host families will form a close bond and have an enriching experience.
“The host family program is one of the indispensable parts of my college life now,” Ogasawara wrote. “It is because I have the host family that I feel Grinnell [is like] my second hometown.”