International students continue to find friendship and English language improvement through homestay program

Originally Posted on Emerald Media via UWIRE

The American English Institute (AEI) at the University of Oregon has provided different programs and services to international students since 1978. The institute’s homestay program has connected international students with host families since 1989.

“The homestay program is designed to give our students a helping hand in adjusting to life in America and a support system from the beginning of their stay,” said Suzie Heilman, AEI Homestay and Housing Coordinator.

There are 15 families who have hosted students through the AEI for over 20 years. “That speaks to the dedication of the families and the positive enrichment of the program,” Heilman said.

“We have host families that are single men or women, families with children of all ages and couples,” Heilman said. “Our host families come from all income levels, all religious or spiritual backgrounds, and we welcome diversity.”

Responsibilities of the host families include providing a friendly and supportive environment for students.

According to Heilman, each student has their own bedroom, but sometimes shares a bathroom. Host families are required to provide breakfast and dinner every weekday, and three meals per day on weekends. Each host family’s house should be no more than a 45-minute bus ride from campus.

“Host families help the student understand the differences and similarities between our culture and theirs,” Heilman said. “Building a good relationship so that the student can comfortably ask questions about things that are new or different is a major benefit.”

Ying, an international student from China, credits her improvement in English to the help she received from homestay and the AEI, according to a testimony on the institute’s website.

“My homestay family helped improve my English and taught me a lot about American culture. They are friendly and treat me as part of the family,” Ying wrote.

One reason homestay can be helpful to international students learning English is because they consistently hear the language being used by their host family.

While students may be thousands of miles away from home, they are still able to connect with their friends and family via Skype or other media, Heilman said. “Many students will introduce their personal family to their American family.”

International students are contracted to stay with their host families for at least one term, according to Heilman. After that, it is a term-by-term basis in order to provide flexibility for both the students’ and host families’ needs.

Heilman said that homestay is the most affordable way for an international student who is enrolled in AEI to live in Eugene, with students paying $650 per month to the host family.

If a family wants to become hosts through the AEI, they can fill out a form on its website. After filling out the form, the family will meet with Heilman at their home, and after passing a background check, they become part of the program. There is no cost to the host family for participating.

Heilman said a majority of students remain in the homestay program until they graduate from UO. She even had one student stay with her for six-and-a-half years. “Many students and families remain lifelong friends.”

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