To feel a familial connection in a foreign country is to feel a sense of belonging, to feel the basic goodness of humanity. Upon leaving the airport, we begin a new chapter with an open mind. Our host families welcome us, not as strangers, but as daughters and sons, sisters and brothers. They feed us, accommodate our needs, take us to cultural and historical sites, to school, converse upon our curiosities, and provide comfort and compassion generously. We come with our open minds, as well as helping hands to clean the dishes, games to play with boisterous siblings, and a willingness to listen, learn, and share. When we leave, we leave with a life-long connection to our host families through memories and continued communication.

During this time of uncertainty and isolation on a global scale, it is incredibly important that we remain connected to and support one another. In 2020, during the month of June, NSLI-Y alumni engaged in the NSLI-Y Host Family Story Connection Collaboration, an event designed to encourage alumni to reach out to their host family/families to reconnect/remain connected and share positive stories about their interactions with the NSLI-Y community. This event simultaneously promoted language learning, connected various NSLI-Y community members, and served the international community by encouraging global citizenship and dialogue during a time of crisis.

An image of Alejandra in traditional Korean dress with a member of her host family

“In the summer of 2017, I spent six weeks in Jeonju, South Korea, through NSLI-Y! My host family consisted of my host mother, host brother and host sister. My host brother was three years older than me, and my host sister, Ahyeon, was the same age as me. While it’s a bit difficult to keep in touch with my host brother due to his busy schedule, I’ve been able to keep in touch with my host sister, and we communicate frequently, keeping in touch through social media. Throughout the month of June, I was able to talk to my host sister about various topics thanks to the weekly question prompts of the Host Family Story Connection Collaboration."

An image of Alejandra eating at a restaurant with her host family

"Every time I talk to my host family, whether it be my host mother, sister, or brother, I am reminded of their generosity and kindness when hosting me. My host mother made every effort to ensure I was comfortable and happy, as well as help me with any mistakes I made when speaking Korean. My host brother was always there to listen if I needed advice, to help if I struggled with homework, and he was especially always there to watch Korean reality television shows with me. My host sister was always there if I needed a friend; she was one of my greatest support systems when I needed help, and I will never forget the evenings we spent watching Disney movies in Korean or going to “noraebang” (karaoke rooms).

I will forever be grateful to my host family for making my summer in Korea one of the greatest experiences of my life. I hope someday in the future I will be able to visit them and create many more lovely memories with them.”

— Alejandra Robles, 2017 Korean Summer NSLI-Y Alumna

An image of Meredith before a table of food with her host sister

“Ever since studying abroad in Chengdu, China during the summer of 2018, I’ve tried my best to stay in touch with my host family despite our busy schedules. These past few months we’ve been checking up on each other to make sure that we’re all healthy in the midst of this pandemic and that each of our extended families are doing well too. I’ll be going to college this fall, and I’ve enjoyed sharing with them my plans and hearing about how Lillian, my host sister, will be graduating from middle school. She recently sent me an audio message checking to see how I’m doing, congratulating me on my graduation, and telling me about hers. It was really touching to hear her voice again, and it made me realize how much I miss them! My host mom messaged me a couple months ago as well and told me that my host dad woke up that morning thinking about how much he misses me. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know them a few summers ago and that I’m still in touch with my NSLI-Y host family!”

— Meredith Peters, 2018 Chinese (Mandarin) Summer NSLI-Y Alumna

An image of Meredith posing with her host family

“Some of my best memories living in Moldova involved getting to know my host family. I didn’t just get to meet and spend time with my host parents and sisters, but I also had the chance to meet our entire extended family. Cousins who had moved to North Carolina came back and visited for dinner. Even one of our cousins living in Moldova came over for coffee one night. Her English was not good, and my Russian was bad, but we both studied enough French in high school to have a meaningful conversation. One of my best memories of meeting different family members was when I met our uncle Eugen. He is a farmer who lives far outside the city, but he’d still drive to visit us with a car full of homegrown apricots, vegetables, honey from his bees, and fresh sour cream. There was just something so special about how we were able to connect through all the foods he brought us even despite having a language barrier. I still remember the first time we met. He yelled “американец!” and then pulled me in for a hug. My mom would use the apricots to make an apricot cake and compote and would then invite over our neighbors in the evening. Food is such a big part of the culture; it’s something that brings everyone together. I’m really grateful for the experiences I had meeting my host uncle and learning about his life as a farmer. Meetings like these made my stay in Moldova more than just an educational trip; they gave me a chance to really understand what it means to be Moldovan, and I left the NSLI-Y program feeling like I truly was and still am part of the family.”

— AJ Ulwelling, 2019 Russian Summer NSLI-Y Alumnus