In late October, CIPUSA welcomed five politics and media professionals from Cleveland's Sister City of Volgograd, Russia as part of an Open World Leadership program to explore U.S. election and campaign processes, media relations with government officials, and crisis communications management.
Lauren, a Cleveland native, eagerly signed up to be a Homestay Host during this week-long program. Below is an interview CIPUSA did with Lauren about her experience hosting an international professional for the first time!
Why did you decide to be a Homestay Host?
Having visited many other countries, I am always interested to have the ability to learn about and interact with people from other cultures. In high school, my family had a host student stay with us from Finland for three months and it had a meaningful impact on my world-view. Knowing that the delegates were around my age seemed appealing too, I thought we may have more in common.
How were you feeling / what were you thinking during the weeks leading up to your guest’s arrival?
I was looking forward to meeting Lena and enjoyed communicating with her beforehand over Facebook and email. I was excited rather than nervous or apprehensive. I felt it was a big responsibility to show her America and leave a positive impression.
What did you do to prepare for your guest?
I was eager to ensure she had a good time here and asked friends and family members their throughts on the best local activities to do and show her. I put together a rough itinerary for our time together, leaving the flexibility to change plans. I also cleaned my house and stocked up on foods I thought she might enjoy like pancakes, snacks and drinks.
I think some people might be hesitant to host because of potential language barriers. Were there any communication difficulties? How did you overcome them?
I was fully expecting Lena to know some rough English and thought we may communicate with sign language etc. if needed. I was stunned to find her English nearly perfect! She struggled a bit with more obscure words, or names for things that she did not learn in her conversational classes, but I was patient and eager to teach her correct words and nicely correct her pronunciation.
Were there any U.S. customs / culture that you got to share with Lena and/or vice versa?
Lena was here at a very fun time considering the Presidential Election was right around the corner. As a political scientist she was excited to learn about the election, candidates and how the democratic process works.
Lena also had the chance to experience Halloween trick-or-treating in the small town of Chagrin Falls. We attended a party at a friend’s house and Lena was enthusiastically giving out candy to kids as they passed by – she said this was a major highlight of her visit. Lena explained that in Russia people to not usually smile for the sake of it, rather they only smile if they truly like someone (i.e. family, significant other). She found it odd that Americans smile all of the time, at everyone. After handing out candy on Halloween she said, “my face hurts from smiling!” It was a funny moment.
I also invited some friends over to have a traditional American cook out complete with cheeseburgers, beer and conversation.
What are some activities you and Lena participated in together?
Jeckylls Restaurant in Chagrin Falls
Dinner at The Country Club in Pepper Pike with my family
Walked around Chagrin Falls
Went to Costco / Miles Market to see an American supermarket
We did a yoga class at Chagrin Yoga together – she said it was particularly hard to understand what to do with the Sanskrit yoga words, and when the lights were off and she couldn’t imitate everyone else
Went to a Cavaliers basketball game
Did you learn anything from your experience?
I was particularly interested to learn about Russia's political system. Lena was well-educated and with her background as a political scientist, it was super interesting to hear about her culture through her enlightened perspective.
How did you feel at the conclusion of Lena's stay? Was the experience what you expected it would be like?
I was sorry to see Lena go as I had gotten use to her presence. She was such an easy person to have around, talkative and relaxed, so in reality the entire experience was much better than I had expected!
Overall, what was it like having someone from a different country live with you?
Slightly out of my comfort zone but fun, exciting and a great learning experience.
Any advice for future Host Families / Homestay Hosts?
Go for it! You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. It will open up your eyes to the world and new cultures. It's also a great opportunity for you to share American culture and values with people from other countries.
Posted by Lindsey Walsh on
November 9, 2016 at 4:14 PM