Host Families Encourage Cultural Exchange with International Students

Host families working with the Community College Initiative comment on the way to exchange cultures and help international students.


Photo provided by Kayla Chepyator

Albinota Krasniqi, Staff Writer

One of the most difficult things for international students to deal with is moving to a new location away from everything and everyone they used to spend time with. They try to meet new people and take other steps to feel at home, but they still miss the supportive environment of their families.

Coming to the United States as a Community College Initiative (CCI) student, they have some opportunities that give them the impression that they have another family here that is taking care of them and attempting to make them feel at ease like they did with their family at home. Part of this program are “social hosts,” which are families that live in the United States that will host an international student for events, or more often. They don’t live with the social hosts, but the time spent together teaches the students about American culture.

Some families have been social hosts for CCI since the first year that the program started. They enjoy being with new students each year and having the opportunity to learn about new countries, cultures and their histories.

Paul and Lynette Trautwein are social hosts since 2012, the year CCI started as a program at College of DuPage (COD), and they participated in some other programs before CCI.

The Trautweins said they are trying to do different things that would show international students more about the United States. Some activities include going to downtown Wheaton in the summer to have pizza and ice cream and see the car shows; having students over for Chicago-style pizza; going to Chicago to ice skate at Christmas and see the decorations; having a Halloween party to carve pumpkins and wear costumes; and, in February, the viewing of the movie Groundhog Day; and an after-graduation party.

The Trautweins are planning to visit some of the countries that their students were from.

“We have had a world map on the wall in our kitchen and love to have all the students indicate which country they are from,” the Trautweins said.

Photo provided by Kayla Chepyator

They are demonstrating how it is to have a family here

 and how life is. 

“It’s just nice to show them what an American home is like and an American family and try to extend hospitality to others. So, hopefully, when they go home they will remember our country with good memories,” the Trautweins added.

Hashem Helmi, another social host from the first year of CCI at COD, said he enjoys working with young people who may not know everything around here and how it works, because in that way he can teach them things he learned on his own. He entertains students by inviting them to dinner and transporting them to locations such as Springfield, Michigan and others. Through the students who were part of CCI, Helmi said he could learn things he didn’t know before about their countries.

“As long as I live in this area, I will be a social host,” Helmi said.

During international week, students spent a night with all of their social hosts, preparing traditional foods and presentations for each country to share about their culture. 

For over five years, Dale and Mary Schreiber have enjoyed hosting social events. They were prepared to be social hosts because they worked with many cultures for 38 years in Africa.

“We love to have students in our home, asking some questions about their culture, teaching them about our culture, playing games with them, cooking food together, and enjoying the time with them,” the Schreibers said. They consider these years a wonderful experience.

Jeff and Jane Pelz have been serving as social hosts for four years. They enjoy helping international students fit into American culture.

“We always seem to have a wonderful conversation at the dinner table, sharing about our families and sharing more about our lives,” Pelzs said.

Also, their experience living in other countries made them being host for students.

“We have lived overseas ourselves, and we know how important it is to have friends in a new culture,” Pelzs added.

Some families are actively participating in their first year of serving as social hosts.

Kevin and Amy Schiltz are enjoying being social hosts because they get to spend time with their students and share cultures and experiences. They are helping students with questions that they might have, hosting meals, providing help navigating the area when needed, and establishing holiday traditions.

“We would love to visit Tajikistan, Kosovo, and Kyrgyzstan—Amy has visited,” Kevin said, and those are countries that their students come from.

Pierre Michiels tries to do things that are not so common for his student back home. One of the very first things that they did was go to a cruise night, where there are music and cars on display, and just kind of walk through. He also took his student to a White Sox game because baseball is an American pastime. And he is organizing movie nights for all CCI participants.

“I highly recommend other people participate in this program as social hosts,” Michiels said.

Some of the things that Jennie Nicodem has done with her student include going to a play in the park in the early fall, CCI events at COD, going to church, going to the zoo, and spending Thanksgiving at Nicodem’s family home.

“Being able to come to the cultural potluck and country presentations that the CCI students put on was also a highlight for me,” said Nicodem. That night, she got to see her student play the national instrument of Kyrgyzstan.

Bob Lapinski learned about a new nation that he was a bit familiar with and now he wants to travel to Tajikistan because when you actually go somewhere, you can truly enjoy what you have learned about it.

“It was really a good learning experience for me,” Lapinski said.

Through this program, students, during the time that are studying in the U.S. are enjoying the family atmosphere with their social hosts.

Adem Bislimi, a CCI student who is from Kosovo, claimed that spending time with his social host made him feel less homesick and more a part of their culture. They went to a Christmas kindle market, and it had a lot of European music, foods and decorations that made him feel good.

“Having a social host is helpful in the sense of having an inner fulfillment from filling in parts of the culture; it has nothing to do with the materialistic aspects,” Bislimi said.

Thanksgiving Day was the most interesting experience on the way to understanding American culture for Sezim Soodanbekova, a CCI student from Kyrgyzstan.

“Little children, a large family around the table, games and funny stories made me feel at home,” Soodanbekova explained.

Her social host is helping her learn new things about American culture and people.

“She is not just a social host for me but also a good mentor from whom I get useful advice about academic, professional, and personal life,” Soodanbekova added.

CCI is attempting to do more than just provide students with the opportunity to study their field. It is trying to make them feel like part of American society for the months that they have to stay in the United States.