When should we invite international students into our home?
As soon as possible, since international students are already looking for friendships, if we wait too long, they will find friendships elsewhere or perhaps just become lonely.
Who should initiate the contact?
You should. Many international students feel like “guests” here, and may feel it too “forward” to call you. Make sure they have your telephone number and address, just in case they need to get in touch with you.
How will the students find our home?
If they are coming by car or riding the bus, send them a map to find your home. The best thing would be for you to pick them up. Be clear about where you will meet them and the time.
How long should they stay?
That’s up to you. Remember, they are students, and need to study. It’s helpful to give them an idea of how long the visit will be. Some international students may feel uncomfortable if they don’t know how long is polite to stay. You might say, for example, “We’ll pick you up at your room at noon and after we’ve had dinner together, we can show you around a bit. We’ll bring you back to your room by 4:00 P.M.”
How often should we invite them?
That’s up to you. Since they’re studying, they will not expect to be invited every week, but if they are never invited, they’ll feel badly, and wonder whether they’ve offended you in some way. Let the friendship develop and give you guidance on how often to invite them. If the students invite you to do something with them, please be ready to accept their invitation. It’s their opportunity to express friendship and gratitude for your friendship.
What should we do together?
Enjoy time together. Have a meal, BBQ, or potluck. You might look at photos or slides together, go to a concert, drive out to the countryside, or simply go for a walk (most international students are used to walking) and look around your neighborhood.
The students will be interested in getting to know the city better. Although they may have been in your city for a few weeks, or even may have lived here for a couple of years, there may be things they would love seeing, such as a museum, large factory, park, botanical gardens, an arboretum, zoo, or take a tour of your state’s Capitol Building.
What do they like to eat?
You should ask the students if they adhere to a particular diet, or if there are foods that they don’t eat. Some international students don’t eat meat, some will not eat pork. Usually chicken, fish or eggs are “safe” to serve. You may certainly serve American food; the international student will expect this. But don’t be too surprised if the student isn’t enthusiastic about your dish. It may take time to get used to American food.
What can we talk about?
International students miss their families. Most love children, and will be happy to share with you about their family life (brothers and sisters, parents, children, customs) and country. If you have a world atlas handy, they can point out where they live. You can ask them about their studies, hobbies, and religion, if they have one.
What about helping out with things?
The students will want to feel more “at home” than feel like a “guest.” If they offer to bring a dish, help set the table or help clear and wash up, let them join you. They’ll want to get first hand knowledge of the way we do things.
How do I pronounce their names? How do I address them?
Ask them. They understand that their names are unusual for us to say. Some will tell you their “American name,” feeling that it will be easier for you. If you make an effort to learn their real name, they’ll appreciate it.
Ask how you should address them. International students may not know exactly how to address you, whether to use your first name, “Mister,” “Mrs.,” “Doctor,” and so forth. They’ll feel more at ease if you take the initiative to tell them how you’d like to be addressed.
What if something “weird” happens?
Don’t be surprised if your guests do something “strange.” Our culture and customs here in the USA aren’t necessarily “right,” but they are different. In Japan, for example, one removes their shoes before coming into the house (to keep it clean). In Nigeria, the guest will not tell you when he wants to go home, but will wait until the host gives permission to leave. In some African countries it’s fine to show up as a guest with one or two extra people – without telling the host beforehand! It might even happen that your guests don’t show up, and don’t call first to let you know. In some cultures it’s polite to ask other people how old they are.
What about praying before the meal?
Feel free to practice whatever family customs you have about prayer or reading a Scripture portion before or after the meal, explaining to the students that this is your custom. Say something simple such as, “It’s our family custom to give thanks to God for the meal as we begin.” Just be yourself. As you do this with tact and love, they’ll respect your convictions, and it may lead to a good conversation.
What about inviting them to church or other religious activity?
If the international student is a Christian, invite him or her to join you for worship. If your guests are not Christians, they may be open to attending a worship service with you if they are asked gently. This can be a new “cultural” experience for them. Be willing to accept “No, thank you,” for an answer.
What’s the next step?
Invite them to interesting local events in your community. Please consider inviting them to your home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, as well as other special times.
Be natural. Do “normal” things, and invite the international student to join you. Include him or her in your daily life: shopping, washing, studying, etc. When you go shopping together, you could point out inexpensive stores. Study together. Read their homework through and help them with the language.
Visit each other, and get to know their friends. Share pictures of your families. Invite them home to meet your family.
Share food experiences. Offer a cup of tea or coffee when he or she visits you. Invite them to supper or allow the international student to cook one of his or her national dishes for you. Cook or bake something unusual together, such as cookies.
Help your friend find a room, and help with moving. If you own a car, offer to drive the international student to places he or she couldn’t visit otherwise. You could take a tour somewhere in your city or to your State Capitol, or plan an outing to some other place of interest, such as one of your state parks.
Use national holidays and festivals as a source of ideas. Celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter together. Learn about his or her culture. Teach each other songs and have a folk music evening. Sometimes you might want to send your international friend a card, to show you’re thinking of him or her.
Personal touches are a sign of loving friendship, such as bringing some warm soup when they’re sick, or planning a surprise birthday party for him or her; invite them to your birthday party. You could write letters to someone together. Write to their families, telling them something about your friendship. It’s important in a friendship to share worries and needs together.
There are outdoor activities you can do together, such as going for walks or hikes, riding bicycles, skiing or swimming. Play a sport together such as volleyball, soccer or table-tennis, or let them teach you a game from their country. Camping might be a new adventure, and not soon forgotten. Fly a kite together. Build a snowman, share hobbies, go photographing together. Go on a trip together, visit other cities, or even plan a trip to your friend’s home country.
Go to a play, art show or concert, go to a movie or watch a video together, then discuss it afterwards over coffee or hot chocolate. Watch and discuss the news together. Read books together. Sometimes such activities can lead to a good conversation on what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with people’s hearts, and how faith changes things. Talk together about faith.
Many international students would be glad to be invited to visit your home, your parent’s or a friend’s home, and get to know a family. Small children are an added blessing.
A casual, informal visit or a meal together is better than a formal meeting with strange customs. And remember to be a friend. It’s important to show true interest and not patronize. This means doing things together, not just doing things “for” your international friend. International students want a deep, personal friendship while studying here. Better one or two friendships, than ten acquaintances.
A deep friendship can only develop if we’re prepared to share and invest time. Friendships grow as time is invested.