If the declining dollar has grounded your plans to travel abroad this summer, you might consider expanding your international experience right in your own backyard.
August is an ideal time to volunteer as a host for international students. You may offer hospitality for a single meal, a short- or long-term homestay, or even a school-term residency.
American colleges and universities have recruited record numberes of international students during the past few years, and August finds them between semesters and often short of funds for a trip home.
Also, increasing numbers of students from Europe and Japan are making their first visits to the States for their traditional August vacations. Some come individually or with friends, and request homestays to meet Americans and to help improve their own English-language skills.
Although the student homestay is no longer a novelty, it is very much alive, and the current influx of both resident and touring students does help balance American dollars spent abroad.
If you do decide to invest your time, you may be surprised at some of the returns. You could, for example, find your teen-age son, who has yet to associate with the local female population, confidently escorting three dansk datters around town; or you may find yourself learning from a Persian how to make horesh ; or, from a Yameni, how to make foutou ; or practicing your textbook French with Continental teen-agers who turn down your wine for orange juice; or learning where to find ice skating in equatorial Africa.
Some of Washington's resident students are officially selected and sent by their governments for an elitist education. Hospitality is often arranged by their official sponsoring organizations.
Many more are here because their home countries are producing far more high-school graduates than their universities can absorb. They represent a newly emerging middle class, usually middle-income, studying for middle-level administrative and technical jobs. Although they come from all parts of the world, a large percentage are from the Middle East.
Most have a fairly good command of the English language and most have quickly adopted prevailing patterns of dress.
As you get acquainted, however, you will discover some of the more subtle differences in cultural patterns. The Japanese, for example, are so polite they may reluctant to use a negative response; instead, they will have a range of affirmatives to which the American should be attuned. Some Middle Easteners, on the other hand, are apt to be noncommital unless an offer or request is repeated two or three times.
You may find your guest is put off by the impersonality of suburban shopping, or that he responds joyously to the most jostling of crowds, or that he frowns on outdoor sports with his female American friends. (Women in his part of the world may be expected to move at a sedate pace.)
If your car needs work at the garage, or body shop, your student guest may value the chance to follow along. You may find that by American standards he has had little instruction in the operation and care of a motor vehicle.
When you invite your student for a homecooked meal, you might include grocery shopping and preparation in the invitation. One student spent his first visit to an American kitchen going through the spice bottles and unscrewing the tops to find those that were familiar.
Some also like to know what they are eating. If your guest is Moslem, he may turn down your cold beer (alcohol) and your hot dogs (pork), and maybe even your clambake (shellfish) and hamburger patties, if his religious background is strong. Poultry and fish are the best choices; fruits and salads are important, and honey, nuts, yogurt, and tea are all popular. If that sounds like a health-food diet, the Middle East seems to have discovered it a millenium ago.
After dinner you might offer a tour of your living quarters. Student visitors are curious about their furniture. If your student is trying to put together an apartment, you might follow up one Saturday with an introduction to the popular economies of the neighborhood yard sale.
As for an evening of conversation, be ready to discuss your views of American mores and morals. Those who live in a university dormitory have probably encountered a few incidents for which they were quite unprepared; they may welcome an impartial reaction.
Find out about their homes, their language and their part of the world. You may be surprised at the strong family orientation of many non-Western students, and extent of their cultural heritage.
And you may find that you have made a lasting friend., Another evening your student may bring tapes of his country's music, or teach your friends to dance in the ethnic way, or help you to evaluate a purchase or oriental rugs, or take you on a visitto his own religious center.
You may want to set limits. Americans tend to want more personal distance than non-Westerners, though the reverse will be true of some from the Far East. The Japanese live in such close proximity at home that they have raised psychological distance to an art form.
You can talk about these things openly with many students and help them adjust. Explain if and when you will accept telephone calls. International students want to be sensitive to your feelings and receptive to your views, and chances are they have already talked about these differences among themselves.
Hospitality for students arriving on summer tours fits into more familiar American patterns. These students tend to be well-traveled for their age, and like their American counterparts, are often casual and open.
If they are traveling independently, they are probably comfortable with English and can get around on their own. They may enjoy meeting you in town after your work. If they are with a group, much of their schedule will already be planned.
August in Washington may be an eneravting surprise. You may find some of the best times are spent in quiet conversation over iced tea or sodas: learning about backpacking in the Dolomites, or Midsummer Night in the lake country of Sweden, or summer skiing in Morocco.
Traveling foreign students will usually be current or recent students of secondary schools, with their diplomas from the gymnasium or lycee generally equivalent to an associate degree from an undergraduate college in the States. Because entrance to the advanced universities may be highly competitive, this may be a sensitive area to discuss unless you understand the pressures of their system.
Also understand that the volunteer homestay host is not widely known in other parts of the world. In Europe, hostels are prevalent, bed and board are available in private homes, and even homestay hosts are often paid to cover their expenses.
American hospitality may be a new experience for students from parts of the world where the opportunity to visit in the home is limited to relatives and trusted friends.