Cooking together, relaxing over board games, sharing family stories and making new international friendships.
That is the essence of the host family experience, as two NIU families know very well.
Chemistry professor David Ballantine and engineering professor Michael Haji-Sheikh – and their families – have hosted more than 50 high school students and adult leaders over the past nine years for two U.S. Department of State youth exchange programs administered by NIU, the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program (SEAYLP) and the Philippine Youth Leadership Program (PYLP).
Both programs have been actively recruiting host families for pairs of high school students or adult leaders for SEAYLP (April 9 to 17) and PYLP (April 17 to 30).
SEAYLP currently needs three more families while PYLP is looking for six, said NIU host family coordinator Leslie Shive.
The commitment is small – eight days for SEAYLP and 13 days for PYLP – but the payoff is immeasurable. The Ballantine-DeMers and Haji-Sheikh families agree on that.
“What we love the most is having young minds who are bursting with knowledge, enthusiasm and ideas, who are familiar with US politics and culture, who are respectful and who are anxious to share their life experiences and culture,” said Diane DeMers, who has hosted participants for both SEAYLP and PYLP. “I also love the exchange of energy and knowledge between my two ‘kids’ (now ages 22 and 23) and the students that we end up hosting.”
Misty and Michael Haji-Sheikh have hosted students for all but one of nine SEAYLP sessions held at NIU, welcoming a total of 37 participants into their home. “We missed the 2013 session when our kids [in band at DeKalb High School] played at the Sugar Bowl. It fell right in the middle of that SEAYLP homestay,” Misty Haji-Sheikh said.
While hosting international students may seem daunting, DeMers said her family simply shared the ordinary experiences of an American household with their guests. “My personal favorite activity is cooking with the students: baking cookies, making apple cobbler or having them cook a meal representing their country,” she said. “We have also enjoyed taking the students to our favorite haunts like Ollie’s, Cracker Jax, the Confectionary and Thai Pavilion.”
Both families have enjoyed not only getting to know their young charges, but staying in touch with them after they return to their home countries.
“We are still in touch with many of them,” Misty Haji-Sheikh said. “We have gotten to see them grow up, graduate high school and some even college. Our first ones are now working in their chosen careers.”
Their enthusiasm is also inspiring, DeMers said. “The greatest gift the students give to us is when they return to their home countries, we follow them on Facebook, and we see the wonderful things they start to do in their local communities,” she said. “It is like a dream come true to see the idealism come alive.”
If interested in hosting in April, contact Liz Denius at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at (815) 753-1901, for SEAYLP by March 30, or Leslie Shive at (815) 753-9546 for PYLP.