One Hundred + Host Families Later....
|My Nebraska host family|
I've stayed in the homes of over one hundred families all over the world! College Orchestra tours, All-State Lutheran Choir tour, Concordia Christian Summer Outreach team, and of course, Up With People! I was in the Up With People organization from July of 1995 to July of 1996. Every single day of that year I relied on the generosity and kindness of others to feed me and give me a safe place to sleep at night. But, staying with host families is more than eating and sleeping. Let me tell you about it.
|Saying goodbyes by the busses|
Once you found your host family, you gathered your luggage (1 suitcase, 1 garment bag, and 1 backpack for the whole year) and drove "home" to supper, conversation, and a good night's sleep. For those of
you worrying about our safety, we were also given the
|My host sisters and I in Finland|
While on the American part of our tour I ate my fair share of lasagna and garlic bread. It seems that is an incredibly popular "company meal" on this continent. It took me quite a while to get to the point of enjoying lasagna again after my Up With People year! But, who can complain? It was so kind of host family after host family to feed me so well! All they were given in return was the opportunity to get to know this Minnesota gal for 2 to 3 days (plus free tickets to our musical performance)!
We had some wonderful conversations around those dinner tables! I loved sharing about my life and family in Minnesota. Sometimes I played piano for my host family or showed them pictures of my life. And, what fun to get to know each of my hosts! I loved listening and asking questions and learning from them. And, after a while I learned that I could encourage them simply by showing interest in their lives or gushing over nice decorations in their home. Sometimes I was tired and just wanted to be left alone, but time after time I pushed myself to interact and be engaged. I would put on my "Up With People" personality even when I didn't feel like it and press on! At times in my life now, nearly 20 years later, I will sometimes put on that "Up With People" personality instead of slinking away into a quiet corner alone. It can be a very helpful skill for an introvert like me!
|Visiting a castle in Germany|
|One of my host families in Venezuela|
My host brother in Venezuela took me for a hike up a mountain on my free day. He brought along his dictionary in case he had trouble with any English words. Before we left, his mom made us the most amazing fresh fruit juice I have ever had!
One host family in Chatam, Ontario, Canada took my roommate Merethe and me on a boat ride to one of their favorite restaurants across the lake. My Seneca Falls, New York host family took my roommate Shelley and me to see the Women's Suffrage Museum. My Vermont host family took my roommate Holly and me to see a Norman Rockwell museum. Many of my German host families took
|Having Coke Floats in Portugal|
One host family in Portugal had made a huge traditional Portuguese meal, but offered to buy my roommate Katie and me McDonald's instead if we missed McDonald's from back home. I had the Portuguese meal! Later we made them an American treat: Root Beer Floats (with Coke)!
One host mom from Maine was a famous quilter and showed my roommate Asa and me her many quilting magazines she appeared in. She helped us piece together a small Amish quilt. My parents later got it professionally quilted for me.
One host mom from Denmark made traditional Norwegian sweaters. I had been wanting to buy one while in Europe, but was having trouble finding any for sale. She offered to make me one (for just the price of the materials). I got to choose my own style, colors, buttons. She custom fit it just for me! I treasure it still.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I have stayed with over one hundred host families. And, I can tell you that I never had a bad one! I had a few difficult ones, but never a bad one. I am allergic to smoke, so I was not supposed to stay in the home of smoking families. But, something got mixed up in one city and my roommate Kirsten and I ended up in a home blue with smoke! In addition, our host dad bought us greasy McDonald's cheeseburgers, french fries, and Coke for breakfast! Yuck! In another host family I was feeling really down and tired of always being with people. I decided to lock the bedroom door where I was staying (bad idea). My host mom came to check on me and found out it was locked. She was so angry - she yelled at me that night and again in the morning. I truly regret that bad decision and I did apologize, but I would imagine she never hosted again. I still feel bad about that one. So, if those are the two worst experiences with host families, no problem!
I did have a sad experience with a host family in Venezuela. My roommate Sabine and I were saddened to learn that our host family's nephew was in a car accident and died while we were staying with them. The family was so sad and kept crying and crying. It was a free day, so Sabine and I just stayed in our room that day and tried to give them lots of space. It was a hard day. Language was a big barrier in Venezuela with all the host families, but they made up for it with their enthusiasm for Up With People (Viva La Gente!). We were treated like Rock Stars in Venezuela. And, one host family was so generous... When it was time to leave, they wanted to give me something. They took a wall hanging of a clay house off their wall and handed it to me to remember them by! I was speechless. They had so little, but still wanted to give. I will never forget that.
At the end of a host family stay, we would ask our host families to sign our Host Family Remembrance book. They often included a photo and their address. Sometimes they gave advice or wrote about
|A typical page from my Host Family book...|
Before we left a home, we would strip the bed, leave a thank you note behind, and triple check to make sure we didn't leave anything behind. Then our host family would take us to the site where the buses were waiting and we'd say our goodbyes.
We were always sent off with a huge bag lunch and a hug (except for maybe the "I locked the door" host family who was still mad at me!)!!
I had some wonderful host families and I will forever be grateful for my experiences with them. My host parents in Columbus, Mississippi got a violin from someone in town so I could play it for them (and my cast) while staying there. My host mom in Florida helped me write my very first email (to my parents up in Minnesota). My host sister in
|Bonding with a host sister...|
A few years after traveling in Up With People I had a fun idea. I wrote to each host family on the exact days I had stayed with them in 1995 or 1996. I included some of my fun memories from my time with them and a little update of what I had been doing since then. That was a really fun project! Some of them even wrote back!
Looking back on my Up With People experience... I was 18 years old - fresh, young, innocent, and full of hope. I had energy and ambition and an open mind. I knew it was a special time in my life and I made the most of it. I will never forget.
But, I could never do it now! Give me my own bed, my own food, my own schedule, and my own family, please! May I never take them for granted either. If you get the chance, be a host family. You can make a difference!