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From a host’s view: 10 lessons I’ve learned as an IRIS host parent

April 14, 2010

Terry Pollard  and his wife, Diane, are the host parents of Sunday Ishaya  from Bauchi State, Nigeria. Their family lives in Alta, Iowa, and Terry is the pastor of the Alta United Methodist Church.

Here, Terry shares the top 10 lessons he’s learned as an IRIS host parent.

Terry Pollard, Sunday Ishaya and Diana Pollard

Hosting an exchange student with IRIS is not my first hosting experience. Several years ago, I hosted students from Italy with another exchange organization. I made some lifelong friends with whom I still keep in touch on a regular basis.

That’s been several years ago now. This past year, while hosting a YES student with IRIS, I have had some time for reflection about some lessons I’ve learned as a host parent. These lessons have stayed with me. Maybe the lessons I’ve learned are lessons you have learned as well or maybe there will just be something here that will help you.

Lesson #1: We can all break the stereotypes.
In so many ways, we really are all alike. We aren’t that much different from each other at the end of the day. We all find a way to like McDonalds and buy milkshakes. And we all learn how to enjoy pizza and pop. We are all normal people with everyday desires, problems, habits and behavior styles.

They don't have snow in Nigeria! Can you believe it?

Lesson #2: We can all do common and mundane tasks.
In the end, we all know how to wash dishes, do house chores and spend time talking about our countries and cultures while cutting greens for the evening salad. We all find a way to learn how to wash clothes in the washing machine and put them in the dryer. We all learn to do shopping at the big supermarket, write letters and take them to the post office, plan a monthly budget, organize a schedule and sign up for classes.

Lesson #3: We can all learn important life skills.
In the end, we can all learn to become self-reliant, independent, mature and organized persons.

Lesson #4: We can all work together to make a difference in our communities.
We all learn what it takes to be a civic activist. We all can find opportunities for making changes in our communities. We can all work together – whether planning a project, doing a fundraiser, organizing a sports event, helping the community or brainstorming for a new idea.

Lesson #5: We can all live life to the fullest.
Families with grown children or without children of their own love hosting, too. Having an exchange student in your local high school provides a great way to stay involved with your community. And sometimes we find ourselves living life to the fullest with a new son or daughter to share experiences with.

Lesson #6: We can all share our American pride.
When you host, you play a direct role in promoting the positive values of the United States. Living with your family is the best way for students from around the world to become immersed in American democracy, media and debate. When the young man or woman you host goes on to university and a career, the lessons they’ve learned in America will help to shape their decisions for a lifetime.

Lesson #7: We can all learn more about the world.
Hosting is an excellent way to learn about the world without leaving home. Parents and children alike can learn a new language, get personal insight into the world beyond their backyards and even become excellent international cooks! Living with a student from another culture is an education in itself, and it really doesn’t cost a thing.

Lesson #8: We can all have fun.
Host families and exchange students laugh. A lot! Whether giggling over the mispronunciation of words or sharing students’ excitement about prom, host families have a tremendous amount of fun.

Lesson #9: We can all change the world.
It sounds ambitious, but it’s true: when you host an IRIS exchange student, you gain the power to change the world, one student at a time.

Lesson #10: We can all discover our own uniqueness.
Each host family is very special, unique in its make-up and daily routine. As host parents or family, our beliefs, habits and customs — which we may take for granted — will be a fascinating part of the educational experience for our new “son” or “daughter”. Interestingly, you will begin to look at your community, lifestyle and home through his/her eyes. As your family and your exchange student get to know one another, many questions will arise. You discover many similarities, along with a number of differences. You learn to become lifelong friends through sharing your different cultures. Throughout the hosting experiences, we discover much about another culture, about the world around us AND about ourselves.

The lessons learned between an exchange student and a host parent or family experience stay with us – there are always problems in life, and there are always solutions to these problems. Opportunities are limitless, and one should always be in search for new opportunities and new activism.

Life is too short to waste – so, host an exchange student! They will become your lifelong “adopted” son or daughter!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kimberly Hope Athay permalink
    April 16, 2010 2:39 PM

    It would be awesome to see what all of our hosts have learned this year. We just couldn’t continue the work we do with these two countries and each of our individual students without our AMAZING host families getting involved and opening their hearts, homes, and minds! Thanks Terry for this fun article!

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