Hoosier Hospitality links students, community

Saturday, September 5, 2009

For those who may have considered taking in a foreign exchange student but were worried they wouldn't have the time or resources, DePauw's Hoosier Hospitality Program could be a perfect solution.

The program, headed up by Rajai Bimbo, assistant director for DePauw's Center of International & Experiential Education, pairs DePauw's international students with local families, but is not a host family program.

"Rather, it is a way to link international students and community members to share cultures and form relationships," Bimbo explained. "Students and families meet on their own a few times each semester for dinners, social gatherings and community events."

HHP families are encouraged to attend DePauw events with their students, such as art exhibits, plays and concerts.

"Of the total 187 international students on campus this coming year, 82 are first-year students," Bimbo said. "The new class hails from 22 different countries."

Teresa Batto first met Michelle Wong, a DePauw freshman from China, when they were matched with her through HHP in 2007. The Battos were Wong's host family again in 2008.

"Now she's doing an internship in New York, and after that she'll be going to France," Batto said. "We'll probably have her again when she comes back her senior year."

Since Wong is unable to go home for many occasions, such as Christmases and Easters, she has spent those holidays with the Battos for the past couple of years. She was also with them over this past summer.

"We've really gotten very close," Batto said. "She and our family just kind of clicked. The great thing about the (Hoosier Hospitality) program is, you don't have to do that much together, but if it works and you end up doing it, that's great."

The entire Batto family is very interested in international cultures and experiences. Batto's husband Bernie is professor emeritus of religious studies at DePauw, and he taught several winter terms abroad. Batto has traveled to El Salvador, and her three children are all living out of the United States -- one in Bolivia, one in Switzerland and one in Taiwan.

"We have a Taiwanese daughter-in-law now, so it's been nice to have the Chinese culture reinforced in our household," Batto said.

Potential HHP families fill out applications on which they can indicate preferences for the students they will host. The application also includes questions about the family's home and activities.

"We like to match families with students who have some similar interests," Bimbo said.

Bimbo said "traditional" families aren't the only ones that can host international students through HHP. Single people, couples with no children at home, single parents and families of all sizes and make-ups are welcome.

More information on DePauw's Hoosier Hospitality Program can be found online at www.depauw.edu/univ/international/intstudent/HHProgram.asp or by calling 658-4058.

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