Now hiring: host families

20 international students still looking for a home away from home

| Robin Siteneski reporter |

Three weeks into the spring semester, about 10 families are still needed to be host families for international students.
The Host Family program, which is run by International Friends of Pittsburg, matches international students with American families so they can learn about American culture and have someone to turn to while they are here.
This semester, however, the group fears it won’t be able to match everyone in time for the Feb. 9 dinner reception, when students meet their host families for the first time.
“Spring is always a little more difficult to find hosts, typically because people already have a routine established,” said Cynthia Pfannenstiel, the group’s chair. She has worked with the program since the 1980s and says they’ve been having “the most difficult time” finding hosts this semester.
Twenty students have already been matched with 11 families, and some families are willing to host more than one student. About 20 other students applied and have yet to be matched.
The program was started in the 1960s and had its largest participation last fall when 80 students were matched with 48 hosts. The students do not live with their host families; they are supposed to meet once a week or every few weeks depending on their schedule and needs. Families do not get paid to host the students.
Morgan McCune, a board member who matches students with host families, says she takes into consideration both the students’ and the families’ needs: for example, which nationality the host family prefers and whether the student prefers a large or small family. McCune is a host herself.
“It broadens my view of the world, I don’t feel so isolated,” she said.
Pfannenstiel says hosting an international student is almost as rewarding as visiting the country itself.
“It’s a chance to become involved with the culture of another country,” Pfannesnstiel said. “A lot of us are really interested in another country but we don’t have enough time or the finances to travel.
“And I think it gives you a different insight than you would get as a tourist because as a tourist you see hot spots but you really don’t get to know people.”
Pfannenstiel adds that if Friends of Pittsburg can’t find enough families before the Feb. 9 dinner, they will keep looking until every student is matched.

Home away from home

Vickie Mense’s family has been hosting students since 2009. She estimates she has met about 20 people from countries such as Korea, China, Taiwan and Brazil through the program. Some of them are now married and she gets pictures of their children every now and then. Mense, an administrative specialist in the International Programs and Services office, says she usually takes her host students shopping, to dinner or lunch and have them over for Christmas and Easter parties, which her grandchildren enjoy.
“It makes you feel that, hopefully, you’ve made a bright spot in someone’s day, that when they go home they will remember you in a fond way,” Mense said. “It’s not like you’re going to change their lives, but hopefully they will at least remember the time they spent with you.”
Sometimes the relationship between the student and the host family becomes a close friendship.
Emi Cárdenas is one of Mense’s four host daughters this semester. Seeking a music major in Pitt State since last spring, the Paraguayan says having a host family changed her college experience for the best.
“Honestly, she is my emotional support here,” she says. “When I really needed to be with my family she was my family here. And she still is.”

Both international students and families who are interested in the program can apply through the website

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