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The Experiment in International Living Experience

Homestays Promote Cross-Cultural Understanding

When the train pulled into the station in Geneva I had been traveling alone through Europe for three months. I had read about something called the Experiment in International Living, where American travelers stay with international hosts all over the globe.

After filling out an application, the information arrived about my host family near Geneva, Switzerland. Participation requires an interview and a deposit for room and board. As an alternative to a hotel room it turned out to be a very wise choice. How better to become acquainted with the people and the region than to stay in someone’s home and share their meals, language, and traditions while interacting on a daily basis?

Feeling rather apprehensive as the train came to a slow stop, I looked for someone in a red jacket whose name was Helga. I wasn’t sure I would know who she was. She had seen my photo, but I didn’t have hers. However, I knew my concern was unnecessary as her face lit up when she saw me. Sometimes you forget how comforting a welcoming face is to a worn and weary world traveler.

A memorable visit with my EIL homestay host had begun. The family lived in a small town nearby. My room adjoined an ample-sized bathroom on the lower floor of their tri-level home. The sliding glass door led me to a small patio with a view of the surrounding woods.

During my 2-week stay, I improved my French and they their English. I marveled at the majestic Alps and Christmas shopped in Lausanne, sampled some delicious local cuisine, hiked through mountains covered by newly-fallen snow, bonded with the family dog, learned how to take the train to and from Geneva, and generally learned about life in Switzerland through my host family.

They were enthralled with the immense size of the U.S. and frequently spread their maps on the living room floor to demonstrate where they had traveled. We discussed the cities they planned to travel to one day. I hoped that I would be their guide.

One night I was fortunate enough to attend one of the student meetings held by the SIT Study Abroad Program in Switzerland. SIT (The School for International Training) is an accredited institution of higher education whose mission is to prepare students to be interculturally effective leaders, professionals, and citizens. This is achieved through academic courses, language training and participation in homestay visits with host families. EIL in Switzerland, which arranged my homestay, had also arranged the homestays for these undergraduate students. There, I spoke with Mr. Gyula Csurgai, academic director of the SIT program in Geneva. In discussing the purpose of EIL and SIT programs, Mr. Csurgai explained, ”The focus of the programs is international studies, development of international and humanitarian issues. The main objective is to develop international cultural understanding.”

The host families involved in EIL share a strong interest in the objective of intercultural learning and appreciation. “We see a growing division between U.S. foreign policy and European policy. It’s a useful way to improve these ties and also to generally improve human relationships between the two sides of the Atlantic,” Csurgai said.

EIL welcomes people of all ages who are interested in learning more, in a unique and more intimate setting about other cultures. To learn more about the many programs in 27 countries visit the EIL website Experiment in International Living.