Each host campus of the Community College Initiative Program has a different way of approaching social hosts. At Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), the Social Host Program is an opportunity for local U.S. citizens to act as cultural ambassadors to CCI participants by sharing aspects of their everyday lives. Throughout the program year, social hosts usually do an activity at least once a month with their student, and activities often include going to community events, historic landmarks, and museums—some even invite CCI students to join them for a holiday or family meal. In the process, social hosts also learn about the cultures of their CCI student, and the shared experience of international growth and understanding has a profound impact on both student and host.
Doreen Manchester, a social host for Ebenezer (Eben) Offei Boadi, a 2016-17 CCI participant at NOVA Community College’s Alexandria campus, wrote the following, sharing her experience as a social host and surrogate “mom” to Eben from Ghana and Mehedi from Bangladesh.
“Mom Again… My Experience as a Social Host in the Community College Initiative Program”
My husband emailed me at work one day in early August of 2016 – he wanted to sign up to be a “social host” for the Community College Initiative Program. I had no idea what that meant – and my first reaction was “absolutely not”. Knowing that as “mom”, a full time lawyer, the “manager” of our family (and we had just adopted a 7 month old puppy!)– it would be one more thing added to my already full plate.
About a week later, my husband sent me a confirmation letter. We were matched with a student from Ghana. Reluctantly, I agreed to participate.
Our first meeting was at the NOVA Annandale campus. We met Eben, our student from Ghana. He is a tall young man, with a wide smile. Eager to meet his new family, share his culture and learn about ours. The meeting went well. Our eleven year old daughter, Maya, was excited. I remember feeling bad, because we were about to leave on vacation. But we promised that we would connect upon our return and begin our duties as “social hosts.”
We quickly became Facebook friends with Eben. I think he “liked” every photo on my page. We went on vacation and upon our return, the whirlwind of back-to-school time began. How do I have time for this student, I thought?
Well – sharing time with Eben became easy. I first invited him to one of Maya’s basketball games and dinner. I thought – “this is our life, he should see what we do.”
With Grandma in tow, we picked up Eben for our first outing. Eben quickly became an active participant, bouncing the ball back and forth to Maya when she wasn’t playing. Eben began teaching me words in his language.
Our first dinner outing made me realize how fortunate we are – and what little Eben knew about American life. He wanted help deciding what to order, questioned why there were so many forks on the table and why the servers kept filling our water glass. We guided him through it. Maya took an active role in this, teaching Eben to place his napkin on his lap and to use the large sharp knife to cut his steak. Eben savored every bite – and showed his appreciation to us.
And so it began: the relationship that would change my life. We invited Eben to the pumpkin patch. He was so amazed – this is not what a farm in Ghana looked like – there were pumpkins, hay rides, goats to feed, swings, and huge slides to go down. By the end of the day, Eben was exclaiming to us that “America is great!” At this time, we were about to go into an election, where our soon-to-be President wanted to make our country great again. I thought, ‘Eben is right – America is already great.’
Soon after this trip, I became “mom” to Eben. I was a bit taken aback, but decided to roll with it. I learned that his own mother was not currently part of his life. I felt awkward and honored that he would bestow that title on me.
We continued on with our journey. We took Eben to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate his birthday. As “mom”, I began looking out for him. He’s allergic to corn, so I would discuss that with the servers. We made sure he received lots of gifts and wore the Sombrero. He invited his roommate, Mehedi. Little did I know, I was about to be a “mom” to both students.
We invited Eben to Ohio for Thanksgiving. He met my family. He saw snow! If you really want to get to know someone – take them on a road trip. It was then that I began to realize that Eben is an amazing young man. He soaked in every moment of the trip, thanking us profusely along the way. We toured Cleveland with him, took him to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, the waterfront, Dave & Busters, and a Hibachi restaurant. He met my high school friends, saw my grade school, my high school, my college and prayed in mother’s church. I was moved beyond measure at how much this simple gesture – sharing my past – meant to him.
Inviting Eben and his roommate Mehedi to events with our family then became second nature. They attended Maya’s piano recital, we went to Georgetown cupcake, we went to church. They learned how crazy American’s are about their pets when I threw a 1st birthday party for our dog, Munchie.
We planned a trip to New York City, my husband’s parents live outside the city. Eben and Mehedi met Ed’s family, toured NYC, and explored great restaurants. They photographed EVERYTHING along the way! It is amazing to know that even a subway sign is new and exciting to some.
As I said before, if you really want to get to know someone, take them on a road trip. Because after this trip, I now had two sons. I was now “mom” to Eben and Mehedi. I didn’t mind one bit anymore. They were now part of me, my family and my heart.
Family birthday parties were to follow. The Women’s March on Washington, roller skating, bowling, the Harlem Globetrotters, my birthday celebration, the movies. They became family. More church services. We brought Mehedi to church services. What an eye opener to see a Christian church experience through the eyes of a Muslim. He soaked it all in – enjoying every minute. We brought them to Palm Sunday service, dyed Easter eggs, attended a vigil, they helped with lawn work at our home and even received a visit from the Easter Bunny and brought more friends to our Easter dinner and egg hunt! Eben and Mehedi brought friends from the program and visited Maya’s school. They shared a wealth of knowledge about their countries with Maya’s class. And the class – they took up a donation of school supplies to send to Ghana.
Our time now is coming to an end. We are jamming in many more moments together before they leave to go home. I keep thinking that these are my boys and this is their home. The students that I was so unsure of back in August will be leaving me, and it breaks my heart. I am hoping they both return to the U.S. as both hoping to come back and pursue more schooling here. I am hoping to take Maya to Ghana and Bangladesh someday. I want to meet both of their father’s that I have only spoken to on the phone. I know this experience has changed me. I opened my heart and I learned so much about two young, amazing men and their cultures. My daughter has learned that she is very fortunate. And she has learned that if you work hard, you can overcome and succeed.
My advice to other families that consider being a social host – these students want to be a part of your life. Participate only if you have the time. Believe it or not, you probably do have the time – because all they really want is to experience the life you are already living. And as I taught Eben and Mehedi, when you do something like this, you should “go big or go home.” So take them along for the ride.
To my sons – forever – Eben and Mehedi. Wherever life takes you, take me in your heart, as you will be in mine.
This experience was amazing and it went by way to fast. In fact, if I had blinked, I would have missed it…
This post was written by Doreen Manchester, CCI Program Social Host, 2016-2017. The original post was published on the CCI Students at NOVA blog.
The opinions expressed in this blog by writers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the United States Department of State, the Community College Initiative Program, the Community College Consortium, Northern Virginia Community College, and CCI Program host colleges, or any employee thereof.