Talk of hosting an international student had always been a reoccurring conversation in my family, and this past year we did something about all the chatter. With my older brother and me off to live at school, my little sister decided she didn’t want to be an only child quite yet. My family quickly decided that now was the right time to host a student for the year, and in a short two weeks we were cleared by Youth for Understanding and placed with a 16 year old German girl named Judith.
Youth for Understanding (YFU) is an organization that has been in service for over 60 years, and is partnered with 50 countries around the world. They have the goal of full cultural immersion, so that students can fully engage in the culture, language and means of the country they are staying in. Since culture is anthropologically defined as the taken-for-granted notions, rules, moralities and behaviors within a social group, you can understand that being fully immersed is one of the best ways to fully learn a new culture. By doing full cultural immersion, YFU is helping to fight off stereotypes of their own culture and also disproving their own predisposed stereotypes of the country they are placed in. Ethnocentrism, or the belief that your culture is the best, is tackled through the use of complete immersion into a different culture.
Not only has Judith grown from this experience, but my own family has gained so much. As we share our American culture with Judith, she in turn shares her German culture with us. We’ve been incorporating German versions of holiday tradition, foods and general life to our own Americanized lives. Overcoming language barriers has been really fun too, since none of us spoke any German before Judith taught us a few sentences. The branch of linguistic anthropology surrounds the use of communication through language. Through this exchange program, my family and I have learned fun new phrases to use that Judith has translated for us, such as “She’s only looking though her love glasses”, which was used to describe the latest Bachelor finalist.
I think that everyone should consider going abroad and staying with a host family, or even becoming a host for an international student at some point in life. It’s the only way to fully experience a new culture, and to expand your tolerance and love of cultures other than your own. Through this experience, my family has even discovered lots of underlying racism and poor ethnic assumptions about international students. Many parents have asked my mom how she can let a stranger who doesn’t know our language into her home for 10 months. Comments like these are very hurtful, because it shows that the questioner isn’t thinking of people from other societies as they think of their own society’s people.
Hosting an international student has been an amazing cultural experience for everyone who has contact with Judith on a daily basis, and it’s so nice to know that you’re making an impact on a student who is growing up to be a very multi-culturally accepting individual.