For many, the definition of a ‘global citizen’ is unclear. Afterall, we are all citizens living on this globe. However, being a true global citizen is much more than just existing. It means identifying as part of the emerging world to contribute to fight for equal rights of people in all communities. It also means learning about these communities by engaging with others.
Becoming a global citizen isn’t hard, and it doesn’t need to mean traveling to another country. It could simply mean opening your door and your heart. IRIS helps Iowans become global citizens by giving them the opportunity to host exchange students from a number of different countries.
Hosting with IRIS provides Iowans with a multitude of benefits. From expanding your global family to increasing your knowledge of another country, host families allow these students to experience the United States from an insider’s point of view.
To give you an idea of what it’s like to host with IRIS, we’ve talked to some of our previous host families about their hosting journeys and the top five things they’ve learned about the world without ever crossing borders.
It doesn’t matter where you live.
IRIS host families live in towns of all shapes and sizes. From small towns like Hampton to areas like the Quad Cities, host families have welcomed students into their homes regardless of location. One host mom, Alexis Vosburg (hosted two students, Nasra in 2012 and Bora in 2015), says she was worried about living in the country at first, but those nerves were gone as quickly as they came.
“We weren’t sure we would be able to provide enough experience for them because of this, but really all students was to experience is true family life, not a million vacations!”
Hosting helps you grow as a parent.
Whether you’re a first-time parent or you’ve been through it a couple times, hosting is a great way to strengthen your parenting skills. All 30 of the IRIS students come to the United States as juniors or seniors in high school, and coming to a new country all on your own for a year makes most of them independent as well. However, the education system and scheduling in the U.S. can be different from the students’ home countries, so host parents typically help them work through their first few weeks to get the hang of American living.
“The American value and mindset is that everyone should be busy,” said Kim Hope, another host mom located in Ames, Iowa. “My [host students] taught me how to be a mom.”
Prior to Kim’s first student, Jude, Kim and her husband hadn’t been parents. She says the change of taking care for a teenager helped her figure out how she’d be with her own children someday, and some of the traits she picked up were the exact opposite of what she thought would happen.
“I got to figure out what was important to me in regard to parenting. For example, it was important to me Jude picked up after herself and helped around the house without being asked, but I didn’t concern myself much about her grades unless necessary,” Kim said. “Both of these were different than what I thought I would’ve been like as a parent before.”
Hosting helps you grow as a family.
For Alexis, who was a mother of two when she first started hosting, the worry lied within providing her teen with enough U.S. experiences while caring for her own five-year-old and two-year-old.
“I worried about how our family dynamic would change. Would I be able to get my student to all the activities they wanted to be in since we lived out of town? Would they make friends without me having another high schooler in the house?” Alexis said. “But we were also excited to share everything we could with them! Our first student, Nasra, helped me a lot to feel less busy, and our family dynamic did change. With her in volleyball and soccer, my younger kids loved cheering her on at games! Like I said, all a student really wants is to experience true American family life, and that’s what we did.”
As Alexis went on to host her second student, Bora, she found that bringing an exchange student into the home wasn’t anything different than having another child; parents just missed a few years.
“I remember Bora’s Yoda shirt the day we picked him up. It fit perfect with my Star Wars-crazy nine and six-year-olds. From day one he was a part of our family,” Alexis said.
Hosting helps the students grow.
Spending a year in another country gives students a multitude of new experiences that help them become more independent and understand who they are as people. For Nasra, this meant overcoming her fear of dogs to bond more closely with her host family. For Bora, it was the ability to experience farm life, which was a lot different than his home in the city.
Students also learn how to manage time with friends, family and school. Both Jude and Zain had inherent talent, Jude as a cellist and Zain in his math and science abilities. But being in a different school system made them focus on a variety of topics, not just ones they excelled in.
“I struggled at first with my classes, but my host mom sat me down and talked to me about the importance of balancing my schedule. After that, I usually spent around three hours doing homework, and I always made sure I kept enough time to spend with my host family,” Zain said. “[Time with family] is one of the most important parts of being here as an exchange student and it’s amazing to have those relationships. So I made sure to keep time to school, keep time for homework, and keep time for family.”
Hosting helps everyone grow as people.
This can be seen in Kim’s story of becoming a mom for the first time, Alexis’ quick decisions to host but long-lasting relationships with her students and many other experiences our host families and students get from this opportunity. Science proves this too! In a recent article published by the NPR, studies show people with deep relationships with people from foreign countries also tended to be more creative than their counterparts. This creativity is exactly what helps people to become even more involved as global citizens. By hosting an exchange student, you can take the first step to helping connect communities worldwide, all from the comfort of your own home.