International students met their Abilene families for the school year in first host family program Home Away From Home on Sept. 14.
Home Away From Home is not a homestay program but a way for international students to meet American families, experience mentoring and learn about American culture.
Veronica Witt, assistant director of international student services, created the program after reading a study several years ago which said over 80 percent of international students never set foot in an American home their entire time in the U.S.
International Student Service Intern Takuma Tsuneki said students had mentioned to him that the international student community has a great culture on campus but very little to do off campus.
Tsuneki had never been in an American home until he developed a relationship with a local Abilene family, who invited him to their family’s ranch for Thanksgiving.
Together Whitt and Tsuneki visited local churches over the summer to gather support for their idea that would become the Home Away From Home program. Whitt wanted to connect Abilene families with international students with the hopes the paired families would share “Christian hospitality” with their students. The families were paired with students based on common interests.
“It’s a very minimal time commitment in the sense that it is not necessarily a homestay program where the students actually live with the family,” Whitt said. “It is more of connecting them to a family in the community that they can meet with once a month and just do anything from have dinner with them or taking them to the zoo.”
The goals of the program are to teach students about American life and provide them with a life beyond ACU. Whitt wants the families to become involved in their students’ lives.
“For the new students, the freshmen, they really don’t have the community set up just yet,” Tsuneki said. “They’re just creating that network right now, so to be able to step in and provide an opportunity to learn what western culture is like, to provide that opportunity is really thrilling.”
The launch party on Sept. 14 was the first connection of the students and the families. They met at University Church of Christ. The party consisted of orientation for both the student and families where they matched up and were allowed to meet and greet over ice cream.
The families and students will continually meet throughout the year. Witt expects through word of mouth the program will continue to add students and host families. She encouraged both students attending for a full four years and students attending for a semester to sign up.
“We’ve had some students who apply who are exchange students who are only here for one semester. That is also something we take into consideration,” Whitt said. “We want them to still be able to experience it if their host families are okay with that arrangement.”
For more information about the Home Away From Home Program visit acu.edu/hafh or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.