Category Archives: Social Host

Mary, Terry, and Cessy

“Hi, this is Cessy. An exchange student from Indonesia. She’s doing a scholarship program funded by US Department of State and she’s studying Tourism and Marketing at NOVA. I and Terry are her social hosts, we help her to socialize that’s why we bring her here today”, said Mary when she introduced me to one of her neighbors.

“Oh hi, so does she live with you?”, her neighbor asked.

“No, they put her and her other friends in their own apartment. We will just take her out for dinner or to do other fun stuff”, Mary answered. 

I remember attending 2 social parties in Mary and Terry’s neighborhood, that’s how I got to know deviled egg (hard-boiled eggs that have been shelled, cut in half, and filled with a paste made from the egg yolks mixed with other ingredients such as mayonnaise and mustard – Wikipedia) and I like it. The second party was my favorite because it was a barbecue party, we had a lot of meat. Even though I love meat but the best part of the party was when everybody sat surrounding a stove with burning fire while singing old American songs, it was fall and the weather was cold. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, what a lovely neighborhood! I remember thinking this was the ideal American neighborhood I saw on TV and movies, where everybody knows everybody and gets together once in awhile, Mary even has a book club with the other ladies. Compared to the place where I lived which is a complex of townhouses it was totally different. I lived there for 10 months but I never even really “talked” to my neighbors, most of the time you would just look at each other sometimes with no smiles and continued to mind your own business. Hanging out with Mary and Terry’s neighbors really opened my eyes that yes this kind of neighborhood does exist. 

Mary and Terry loved to involve me in their family’s gatherings as well and that’s how I learned about American values of family. In my country whenever we have a big celebration we love to involve everybody including our relatives and friends and it will take days to celebrate. For example during Christmas in my hometown, we Christian will celebrate it for the whole month till New Year and even days after that by opening our house for people to come and visit us. We will have cakes and snacks and drink for people to have and the next day other people will come sometimes even strangers. But in United States I learned that when it comes to big holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, it should be spent with your family and closest friends and it will only take one day or couple days of celebration depends on how many invitations you get. Of course sometimes they also invite other people like me, but family comes first unless you live far away from them then you may get invited to join your friend’s family or to join a celebration at church. I celebrated my first Thanksgiving with them and they even let me slept over. I was able to help them cleaning the house and then I met their son, granny and some of their good friends. We had big feast. It was a lot of fun. During Easter, I went to their church and then we went to Mary’s sister’s house. I helped them hiding the eggs for the kids and Mary made the most delicious bird’s nest cake (traditional cake for Easter) I’ve ever tasted.

Terry is an artist, he has a job but during his spare time he will make beautiful things from wood. Their house is filled with his creations and I love all of them. Terry is also funny, he loved to tease me pretending like he forgot which college I go to, he often told people that I went to George Mason University instead of NOVA. He’s a cool father and a great husband. I loved seeing how Terry and Mary work together and support each other as husband and wife. In my country usually wife is on the lower position than the husband but in their family both of them are equal, they’re a team. 

Two weeks before my birthday, February 22nd 2017, I emailed them saying that I would love to cook for them Indonesian food and to invite them to have a birthday dinner at my place but they insisted to take me out instead as they said that’s how American do it so I agreed. When they came to pick me up I noticed that Terry seemed a bit down, later I figured out that he just lost his mother a week ago. I was so shocked and touched at the same time. The fact that they could’ve just cancelled our plan but they didn’t and instead they kept their promise to celebrate my birthday with me just overwhelming. I ended up having a heartwarming birthday celebration and to be honest it was the best one.

Post written by Picessylia Anakay, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Indonesia

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….

Love,

Mom

Post written by Doreen Manchester, CCI Program Social Host 2016-2017