By Billy Lee, June 2012

Staying overnight for one evening, a weekend, one week, one month, or even one entire year, as a foreign student or visitor at a host country’s home is what we referred to as Home Stay.

Earlier in April I wrote an article on HOME STAYS, and it was published by All China Women’s Federation’s WOMEN OF CHINA magazine.  I mentioned that Mr. and Mrs. Robert King from my neighborhood generously contributed US $150 Million to Stanford University’s Business School to come up with innovative ways to alleviate poverty in developing countries. The Kings said their contribution was inspired by their having provided home stays for foreign students at Stanford during the past 40 years.  I also mentioned that China’s Vice President, Xi JingPing, specifically requested to revisit his home stay hosts in Iowa from 27 years ago, during his 4 days in the U.S.- primarily to meet with President Obama. These two incidents showed me how magical and powerful Home Stays can effect the people involved (both the giving side as well as the receiving side ). What a natural way to build cross-cultural friendships! This brings back my own sweet memories of home stays I’ve enjoyed in the U.S. when I came at the age of 15, from Shanghai, China to attend Phillips Academy Andover, and later Yale University. My immense gratitude inspires me to want to advocate Home Stays across the ocean. Today, as more foreign students will be visiting China, I would like to encourage more Chinese families to offer home stays and learn to become wonderful hosts and be forever remembered as generous, caring and joyful FRIENDS.

I hope this article will be read by the general public in China, because cross-cultural friendships, depends on people’s willingness to engage with trust, openness, as well as thoughtfulness. It requires hopefulness, courage, and commitment. I know the Chinese people on a whole are very warm-hearted and friendly, but many are still shy and modest, and not used to opening their homes to people they do not know well. However, the Chinese people can also adjust very quickly to modern  practices and realities. They as a people may be the easiest to befriend, and the most loyal and trust-worthy long-term-friends people in the world can have.  

I hope that this article will also be read by people who are already in position to promote and  facilitate cross-cultural education and understanding – directors and staffs at international-affairs offices, whether in government or academic institutions . They can  learn much from  other countries’ successful or failed experiences. It is not only important to learn the WHYs for promoting HOME STAYs, but also the subtleties in the HOWs, WHENs, and WHEREs, etc..  Personally, I hope that our ultimate goal is to achieve Joyful and Sustainable Cross-Cultural Friendship and Bonding- void of Fear and Suspicion and beyond just gaining personal “Knowledge” and so-called “Understanding”.

I also hope that Chinese social scientists will take up serious studies on “How Home Stays best be conducted In China today? ”,  “How the Chinese can learn to be good Home Stay hosts ? ”, and perhaps in collaborations with foreign colleagues tackle: “What are the responsibilities of the Agencies who arranges Home Stays for profit”, and “How foreign students can prepare themselves to be truly delightful guests ? “. I have actually started to do my own quickie amateur research on this subject , and have gathered the following information to share with my friends in China. The following HOME STAY programs are worthy of careful scrutiny :

AFS ( American Field Service www.afsonline.org )
SYA ( School Year Abroad  www.sya.org )
CCIS ( Community Committee for International Students at Stanford University’s Bechtel International Center www.ccisStanfordU.org )
TRU World ( Thompson River University, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada www.truworld.ca/truworld.html )
FFI ( Friendship Force International www.theFriendshipForce.org)

AFS – connecting lives and sharing cultures towards a more just and peaceful world -focuses on public high school students – inbound and outbound. It is partially funded by the U.S. State Department to promote goodwill globally but it is serviced largely by a network of  kind-hearted volunteers worldwide. With over 60 years of international-exchange experience and continuously improved programs, it may be the most valued and reputable high school student exchange organization in the world. Today, AFS-USA sends approximately 1,400 participants abroad and welcomes 2,500 international high school exchange students to the United States each year. AFS – International Network exchanges more than 12,000 students each year in more than 90 AFS partner countries. A network of over 400,000 AFS alumni now lives in more than 75 countries. All of this work depends on the dedicated support of over 40,000 AFS Volunteers worldwide.

A systemic approach has been developed, covering: Inbound ( Hosting ) and Outbound  (Sending)  Programs, Volunteers and Staff Recruitment &Training, Overall Organizing process to integrate ideas and  suggestions from the National Volunteer Assembly with that of the Board – the policy-making body. They have developed excellent manuals to assist the volunteers and participants. Frequent local training and social gatherings are scheduled to keep up the volunteer spirit and to continue the educational process.  Professional staffs and expertise are also made available for necessary Support Services. Most of the info I gathered above can be accessed from  www.afspedia.org . I attended a full-day regional gathering in the S.F. Bay Area recently. Participants that day included 20 some volunteers, Home Stay hosts, and liaison persons, three cheerful young foreign students, two regional coordinators who were fantastic motivational speakers, one Fund-Raising Consultant, and one appeared to be a Lawyer/Child-psychologist. The meeting was most informative and educational. The spirit was genuinely upbeat !

I also learned that a Sister-school exchange program between U.S. and China has been coordinated by AFS and the Chinese Ministry of Education.  Darien Connecticut High School is one of the seven schools participating from the U.S. ( Darien is where I had HOME STAY for one whole summer in the 1950s  at the home of my Yale roommate, David Gregg III.)  Darien H.S.’s website  www.DarienPS.org/USChinaExchange/ records memorable photographs, and reflective essays  provided by students and faculty members about their China experiences at Shanghai’s No. 3 Girl School and Qing Dao’s No. 58 H.S.. It showed that HOME STAYs have definitely left strong impressions.

SYA was founded in 1964 by Phillips Academy Andover, my proud alma mater, together with Phillips Academy Exeter and Saint Paul.  It presently involves about 42 top Independent Schools across the United States as a consortium and sends about 60 secondary-level students from both public and private high schools each year to the following countries: China, France, Italy, Spain, and Vietnam. It has about 7,000 alumni who have all gained an open-minded perspective about the world, mastered a specific foreign Language, and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the People and Culture of the country they visited. Home Stay is an important part of the SYA program. The interacting of the visiting students with the host families have strongly influenced the students during their critical period of character-development and shaped their long-term attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives. The program is especially attractive since it is taught by an exceptionally high level faculty staff from the US and locally, and the year abroad or one SYA summer will award them special credits towards college applications.

SYA’s China partner is the highly reputable Beijing Normal University High School No. 2 . One of SYA’s most important challenges in China was choosing an appropriate partner. It must have high academic standards, suitable location, and the ability to introduce ideal host families. How to match up the visiting students to the host families requires valuable experience and good judgment. Any first mismatch must be quickly remedied.

I just corresponded with Clare Randt, daughter of US Ambassador emeritus Clark Randt and Da Shi Tai Tai , Sarah Randt. Clare is  presently a student at Yale and enrolled in the special PKU-Yale program in Beijing.  When she was a high school student she actually did the SYA program and lived with a family which has a child also studying at Beijing Normal University High School No. 2 . “ Living with a family in Beijing was by far the best thing for my Chinese” Clare said. “The best experiences with my host family were those times I was just sitting in the living room talking with my host grandma about her younger days. A memorable occasion was joining my host family during Chinese New Years when they went back to their hometown in Hunan province. We set off fireworks, received hongbao, visited other relatives, and ate a lot of good food .  Whenever I came home from school I’d speak with my host sister and host grandma. They’d help me with my homework, take me on outings, teach me how to cook, explain to me what was going on in the TV programs they were watching etc. A really fun and funny time was just last winter break when my boyfriend visited Beijing and I got to introduce them. My host father kept telling my boyfriend how wonderful I was and what a lucky lucky fellow he was.  I have no negative things to say about my host family. My living space was comfortable and the host family was very welcoming. I visited them a couple of times when I was back in Beijing this school year, and they were super friendly and happy to see me. I know that not all home-stay experiences were as successful as mine. I was very fortunate to have such a great family. I was a perfect fit .”

CCIS,  was referred to me by Dottie King ( Mrs. Robert King, mentioned at the very beginning of this article.) The Community Committee for International Students is a volunteer group, established in 1953, which works closely with the staff of the Bechtel International Center at Stanford University. It provides outstanding services for international students, senior research scholars and their family members during their stay at Stanford. Currently, nearly 4,000. International students and scholars attend Stanford, and the largest block of foreign students are from China in recent years . Volunteer members of CCIS welcome new foreign students as they arrive in the area, make the visitors feel comfortable, help them get settled, and through person to person friendship help  promote good will and understanding.

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Mrs. Karen McNay who is presently the volunteer Director of their HOME STAY program, and Vice President of CCIS.  She was so proud of the fact that her mother volunteered for CCIS before her, and she told me that although the foreign students live with a host family for only a 3-5 day period prior to Stanford registration, the pre-matching of the students to the hosts is processed  very very carefully, and  then the volunteer Community Advisors provide the students a thorough Orientation.  Most important for building long lasting relationship, she said, is the follow-up and getting together on a regular basis thru out the years.  Mrs. McNay showed me a simple and rather informal two-page HOMESTAY GUIDELINES FOR HOST FAMILIES. It was basically a list of tips on how to avoid possible misunderstandings, and how to make the visitors feeling instantly comfortable and happy to have arrived at Stanford. First impressions are especially important, she suggested.

CCIS offers quite a few other related programs. The one that interested me most is called ENGLISH IN ACTION – a weekly hour of conversation in English offered on a one to one basis between a CCSI volunteer and a foreign student. Several of my friends in the neighborhood have participated as volunteer tutors. Deep personal bonding results from this kind of unique shared experience. I know well the feeling of gratitude from the receiving end, but I am truly surprised and impressed by the satisfaction and inspiration Mr. & Mrs. Robert King claimed they received from their four decades of serving as Home Stay parents.

The TRU Home Stay Program and Host Family Guide appears to be a very well thought-thru document. Indeed, it might have been prepared by knowledgeable social scientists, for some of the language or terms used are Technical and Professional.

 The index reflects it’s thoroughness. See below:

What is the Homestay Program?
Who are the Students?
The Pros and Cons of Hosting, Benefits and Potential challenges
Finances and Obligations: Rent/Fees, Family Vacations, Student Vacation, Restaurants, Transportation, Chores, Religion, Celebrations.
Preparing for Arrival: Household, Meeting the First Time, House Rules, Practical Considerations, Cigarettes and Alcohol.
International Student Challenges: Culture Shock, Culture Shock and Host Family Relations, Language Issues.
A Crash Course in Culture The Cultural Iceberg, Some Perception and Values that Differentiate Cultures.
Intercultural Communication:Communication Styles, Non-Verbal Communication. Other Culturally Influenced Concepts.
Misunderstandings and Problems: Communication, ISA Support, Termination of Homestay.
Appendix 1: Host Family / Student Expectations
Appendix 3: TRU World Contacts ( including Chinese Ministry of Education – China )
Appendix 4: Print and Web Resources
Appendix 5: Termination Notice Form
Appendix 6: Homestay Family Evaluation

The chapter, A Crash Course in Culture, is especially enlightening and interesting as it explains the world’s many different cultural values regarding the balance of rules and relationships. It stated that in certain cultures, the formation and retention of relationships outweigh rules and regulations. This difference in orientation may influence how student perceive collaboration, loyalty, or authority. It also suggests that students from a “Particularist” orientation may find it difficult to adjust to the strictness of the “Universalist” orientation to deadlines, requirements, and expectations. The two orientations were described as below:

“ Universalism”                                   “ Particularism “
Focus on rules                                      Focus on relationships
Consistency of rules                           Flexibility of rules
One truth or reality                             Multiple perspectives of reality
“Get down to business”                      “Get to know you “

It also showed a chart indicating the degree to which “Unversalism” is valued in different Cultures. For example Switzerland 97, U.S. 93, Canada 93, China 47, and Korea 37.  The chapter further discussed “Individualism/ Collectivism”, “Achievement/Ascription”, “Neutral/Affective”, and “Monochronic/ Polychronic”, and concluded that in Intercultural communication, using proper communication style that bridges cultural differences can help avoid misunderstandings. The use of effective questioning and verification techniques can also be helpful when trying to clarify meaning across cultural divides .  The techniques were explained by very clear examples.

FFI Friendship Force International – is a delightful discovery. It was introduced to me by Mr. David Gustavson, a board member of Stanford’s CCIS. While AFS and SYA serve High School students, CCIS and TRU World serve College Students and Post Graduates, FFI, started in1977- is a global community comprising 365 clubs (chapters) in 58 countries serving ordinary people of all ages who share a desire to spread goodwill, to better understand people of other cultures and to value one another as Friends. Travels, Cultural Exchanges and HOME STAYs are their signature programs. I am most impressed by FFI’s 58-page “AMBASSADOR & HOST EXCHANGE DIECRTOR MANUAL – 2012 “ – comparable to TRU’s Host Family Guide in thoroughness.

Believing “Friendship can be a powerful force for Mutual Enlightenment, and Cultural Differences do not have to cause Animosity, FFI’s Founder, Wayne Smith, in 1977 came up with the idea of employing the universal concept of HOSPITALITY TO STRANGERS as a means for bringing people together He had strong support from U.S. President Jimmy Carter – but especially from Mrs. Rosalynn Carter. The vision was “By connecting the World, one friend at a time, we can overcome differences among people and nations, and create a World of Friends that becomes a World of Peace.”

I found FFI program now exists in many parts of Asia, Canada, Europe & Eurasia, Latin America, Middle East, Africa, South Pacific and  the United States, and in Asia, the affiliated chapters exist now include India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Napal, Singapore, and Taiwan. I was surprised not to find China in the list.  Why?  I strongly believe that China today can seriously consider joining this global approach to friendship building.  FRIENDSHIP and HARMONIOUS RELATIONSHIP need to be deliberately pursued, encouraged, and nurtured.

Home Stays when not handled properly can cause wide spreading misunderstanding. My friend, Stephen Smuin, retired Headmaster of Odyssey, a middle School for the gifted in San Mateo, California, told me that when he led his students to visit Japan the past several years, they had arranged Home Stays. He always told his students that their behavior will be considered characteristic of all Americans so that they need to be more patient, considerate, and less boisterous.  A college student from China told me last month that she  requested a change in her Home Stay arrangement in the middle of last year because the Home Mother didn’t seem to have much interest in her and she was fed McDonald hamburgers or Kentucky Fried Chickens for most of the meals. That Home Mother was not a volunteer but was paid by an agent. One Home Stay parent told me that her foreign student was so home sick, but got worse each time after she called her parents back in China. But many more friends reported beautiful experiences. Elizabeth Tsai, a grandmother now, wrote, “I was assigned an American host family in Branford, Connecticut, not far from Yale University. I stayed only a day with them before classes started at Yale. The kind family consisted of a chiropractor, his homemaker wife, and two children then only 5 and 3 at the time. Their house was on the water – Long Island Sound – and they took me sailing in their boat before taking me back to my dormitory. The wife was among my graduation guests later. Many years later when my daughter Pearl entered Yale College in 1988, our family again stayed overnight at their house. They also visited Washington D.C. ands stayed at our home.  We continue to communicate by letter and telephone. Our friendship endures “. 

I recently read a book “THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP” by Christine Leefeldt and Ernest Collenbach. It was first written in 1941 and republished in 1979. Although the World has changed and progressed so much. The Art of Friendship remains basically the same. The book concluded with “Friendship cannot exist without Trust. Vital interchanges of Friendship provides us with networks of secure, enlivening, resilient relationships, and mobilize our human potential for warmth, concern, and mutual supports, without which we cannot thrive. This paper is my effort to encourage China, my Motherland, to become the Best Host Possible, as more and more foreign students and travelers are coming to China to learn, to teach, to conduct business or just travel and tour. I strongly urge the Chinese People, Institutions, and Government leaders to look into HOME STAYs as ways for BUILDING CROSS CULTURAL FRIENDSHIPS. I urge you to take time to examine each of the five websites I have provided you on Page 2.

Cheers!  Perhaps with some additional encouragement I might just gather up enough energy and courage to start an essay on “ MY 65 YEARS OF HOME STAY IN AMERICA SINCE COMING TO STUDY AT PHILLIPS ACADEMY ANDOVER AT AGE 15 FROM SHANGHAI, CHINA “. This idea of writing a biography was actually suggested by Mrs. Dottie King who has indeed given me immeasurable INSPIRATION!