When you think of the word "home," what comes to mind?
Is home the appearance of the land you pass through as you commute to work or school? Is it the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the nearby bakery? Is home the sound of your favorite radio station playing in the kitchen? Or, is it the people in your life that make a place home—a warm hug after returning from work, a knowing glance across the dinner table, and a string of affirming words from friends and family that show they care?
Now, imagine you’ve decided to leave your home to live in a foreign country for an entire year of service in a culture and context that is completely new to you. What does home look like now?
For Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) participants, host families play an essential role in helping them feel at home as the young adults experience life and service in a new, unfamiliar context in the U.S. and Canada. We asked 2017-18 MCC IVEP participants to reflect on their experience staying with host families in the U.S. for the year. Here’s what they shared.
"I [was] treated like part of the family-- I was really part of the family."
- Believer Mhlanga (Zimbabwe)
“I have many memories of playing with my host siblings, having dinner or lunch, exchanging cultures, encouraging each other. We also did farm work together. I [was] treated like part of the family—I was really part of the family.” (Believer Mhlanga, Zimbabwe)
Photo courtesy of Zury Lemus
“One of my favorite memories was [making] a huge (8-10 feet tall) snow man! It was amazing and it was extra special since it was my first one.” (Zury Lemus, Honduras)
"They were my supporters, caregivers, advisors and good friends."
- Jee Hyun Yoo (South Korea)
“I was not a perfect IVEPer. BUT they made my IVEP year perfect. They were my supporters, caregivers, advisors and good friends.” (Jee Hyun Yoo, South Korea)
“They were my ‘host’ family at the beginning. Right now, they are my family. I will not stop loving them, the way they love me.” (Chen Chao, China)
Photo courtesy of Rafik Shehata
“I could call [my host parents] ‘MomMom’ and ‘PopPop,’ which instantly made me one of the family. Especially since I lost my [biological] grandfathers, it felt like I had another grandfather for the year. It was one of a kind.” (Rafik Shehata, Egypt)
“Living with my two host families has been such a different experience of learning about who I am. I had so many great experiences but my most precious moment has to be eating together and having father figures. I was really happy about that.” (Philile Zondi, South Africa)
Photo courtesy of Philile Zondi
“I felt like I never left my home— my hosts and their relatives made me feel like I was part of them which to me was the best thing ever. My favorite memory: watching every Eagles and Villanova game.” (Kate Memorie Apondi, Kenya)
On behalf of MCC, we deeply thank the families who have generously opened their homes and hearts to IVEPers in the past year. We asked MCC IVEPers if they had any final words of thanks for their host family (or families)…
"“There are no words that can describe how thankful I am. Thank you, you are the most loving people, and you redefined love for me. I am so thankful.”
- Believer Mhlanga (Zimbabwe)
“I’m very thankful for [you] opening your doors and receiving me as part of your family. I appreciate your effort in making me food[s] that remind me of home. You’ll always have a special space in my heart.” (Zury Lemus, Honduras)
Photo courtesy of John Williamson
“Thank you for caring for me as your daughter. You are my U.S.A. parents. We will see [each other] again.” (Eun Hee Jang, South Korea)
“Thank you for being the best family to me. We are always going to be family, always!”
- Rafik Shehata (Egypt)
“Terry, Mike—Thank you for helping me so much to adjust to the new environment here. You both are so kind, generous, patient and helpful. Larry, Sherry and Nichole, you’re the kindest people I’ve ever seen in my life. I learned from you to be hospitable, loved, respected and unique. Thanks, hope to see all of you again in my life.” (Rongbin Xie, China)
“Dad, thanks for always judging my meals with so much positivity even though they were strange Kenyan meals. Mum, thanks for being my 2nd mum, always defending me when the boys picked on me, and also making sure that I had something to eat even though I am the most picky eater. I LOVED MY HOSTS!” (Kate Memorie Apondi, Kenya)
“My sweet family, we are not saying goodbye. Because my heart is always with you all.”
- Chen Chao (China)
Hosts are a very important part of the MCC IVEP experience – they’re the way participants get involved in their new communities. We’re looking for people who make sure IVEP participants feel welcome and get to try lots of new experiences.
We also need hosts who are open to learning about a new culture from the MCC IVEP participant they host. Hosts get to understand their own culture in a new way when they see it through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time.
For more information about MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), visit mcc.org/ivep. If you want to host an IVEP participant, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be in touch to discuss the possibilities.