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Honoring our hosts

February 27, 2013

DSC_0231One of the most crucial parts of the IRIS programs are our volunteer hosts. From taking a Nigerian teenager to his first day of American school, to connecting with a Russian journalist, our hosts are able to touch the lives of thousands around the world. Our host parents, siblings and friends have such a great impact on our international visitors that we would like to honor them this month.

When taking in an international guest, our hosts put their lives on hold for a time and give everything they have to insure a safe, exciting and successful time in Iowa. Each one of our guests are different in so many ways, but what brings them together is the determination to make the world a better place after leaving the United States.

Yusuf Marafa with his host family, the Geigers in 2009.

Yusuf Marafa with his host family, the Geigers in 2009.

The influence IRIS hosts have on our international guests is something that will be remembered and taken with them after leaving the country.

“We know that whatever he accomplishes, we have a share in it,” said Barron Geiger, host father to Yusuf during the 2009-2010 KL-YES year. The rewards don’t end once a guest returns to their home country. Lifelong friends can be made by hosting, and most of our hosts have been able to remain connected to their guest throughout the years.

Geiger believes that being a host is about loving and learning. “We choose to love our students and to provide a loving and nurturing environment for them. In return, we make a friend and we learn to truly appreciate that friend, their culture and their way of life.”

home 021With IRIS’ programs, not only do the guests get a taste of the unknown, but also the hosts themselves.  Our hosts are able to see the vast cultural differences between Americans and people from every corner of the world. Geiger said, “The best part of hosting an exchange student was that our family was able to gain more intercultural understanding while investing in a young man determined to give his life to be a blessing to his people.”

While hosting an adult guest or an exchange student, whether it be for a weekend or 10 months, it isn’t always easy. “The difficulties came mostly at the beginning and involved the stress of walking your student through tough cultural adjustments,” said Geiger. With patience and determination, Geiger said he recalls the “tough moments” as great learning opportunities. Hosting may not always be difficulty-free, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Khairiniso Elmurodova, Ada Mae Lewis, Venera Jabarova

Khairiniso Elmurodova, Ada Mae Lewis, Venera Jabarova

“Hosting a student will challenge you to stretch beyond yourself to become a stronger and more culturally aware person. You will end up with a healthier view of life, and in the process, make a lifelong friendship,” he said.

Hosting an international guest is one of the best ways to spread international peace and understanding. By opening your arms to someone, you not only change their life, but the lives of those who interact with them in times and places in need.

Geiger strongly encourages families to host. Listed are his four tips to hosting international exchange students. These can also apply to hosting adults on short-term programs.

  • Do your homework.  Learn as much as you can about your student’s culture and religion ahead of time.
  • Communicate.  In a loving and purposeful way, make your family’s rules, routines, and expectations crystal clear from the beginning, and continue to clarify and explain things on a weekly basis.  Talk with your student daily, get to know them, and coach them through the massive cultural adjustments.
  • Be patient.  Your student will not adapt to life in your home and community in a day, a week, or a month.  They will make lots of mistakes and so will you.  Be forgiving and take things one day at a time.
  • Love.  Love your student like you love your other children.  Look for ways to be a blessing to them.  Make accommodations for them when necessary.  Be involved in their life, give them advice, help them with their homework, and learn from them.  This relationship could be one that lasts a long time.

If you would like to host one of IRIS’ international exchange participants, or would simply like more information, contact  our program assistants at 515.292.7103.

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