UW News

August 7, 2008

A home away from home for international students

News and Information

A week can make all the difference.

For international students and scholars studying at the UW, that first week in Seattle can be disorienting and lonely. But the Homestay Program offered by the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS) has turned that first week into a memorable time for many students and their host families.

“For a potential host: You are helping those exhausted, jetlagged students a lot, by picking them up and giving them a home for the first days,” says Christian Franz, a German graduate student in physics who just left the United States after spending the last year at the UW. “For students: besides the help for a good start, you can find good friends for life there.”

FIUTS hosts invite students into their home and usually greet them at the airport when they arrive. What happens after that is pretty much up to the families and their student guest. FIUTS also offers a Friendship Connection program for people who want to host a student but don’t have space in their home. Friendship Connection hosts typically meet their students at the airport and take them to their hotel — and then maintain contact with them for as long as both parties are interested.

Franz signed up for the Homestay program to avoid the anonymity of a hotel and to avoid the pressure of trying to find housing immediately — a good decision, it turned out. Franz’s week with his host family ended up becoming a month when he had trouble finding suitable housing. He stayed in touch with the family during the year, visiting them at least once or twice a month

Greg Daigle, who works as a secretary in educational psychology, has been a host numerous times, for students from Japan, Holland, France, Austria, Korea and Turkey. With the Dutch student, named Kjeld, Daigle acted as local tour guide, taking him to the Space Needle, the Locks, Carey Park, Golden Gardens, up to the San Juan Islands and even over to Okanogan County. They stayed in touch for the entire academic year. “Even though he lived in Stevens Court, he was at my place more often than not,” Daigle says. “Once he finished his schooling here he went back to Holland. He came back once for a visit and then invited me to Holland. I was there for 10 days.”

Other UW community members also are repeat participants in the Homestay Program. “Doing homestays for FIUTS is an extension of my interest in students and the application in this context of the motto of Servas, an international host and traveler network of peace builders, to which I’ve belonged for 30-plus years,” says Angela Ginorio, associate professor of women studies. “It also has been a chance to offer our daughter an opportunity to meet people who have lived different experiences.”

Ginorio has hosted students for many years. She is still in touch with Gloria Villar, who first came to Seattle from Spain as an exchange student in 2001-2002. Through the Friendship Connection, they talked frequently during that first week. “If I got disoriented in Seattle, she would come to the rescue,” Villar says.

“I came back to Seattle after that exchange year to do a Ph.D. [she just completed her doctorate in chemistry],” Villar says. “Angela and I became friends and we are still in touch seven years later. I like to call her ‘my American mom’ and she likes to call me her daughter. We meet for lunch, dinner, coffee, go to museums, ballet, etc. She invites me to her house on special occasions so I also have had the opportunity to share time with her family. She always takes very good care of me while I’ve been away from my home.”

“Gloria has become a daughter because she has been here for so long and because we ‘clicked’ from the moment she arrived,” says Ginorio. “I’ve met her family and I am certain that she’ll be in our life for as long as we live.”

Last year, more than 200 students and scholars from more than 40 countries participated in the Homestay or Friendship programs. This year, more than 1,000 international students from more than 150 countries will come to the UW, with most arriving between the last week of August and mid-September. More information about the programs, including an application, is available at : http://fiuts.org/community/homestayFC/index.htm.  

“I look forward every year to the Homestay Program,” Ginorio says. “FIUTS and its programs are important parts of campus life