Community members work with SBU to reinstate family hosting program

Community members work with SBU to reinstate family hosting program

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Harold Metcalf, right, poses with a few students from India, China and Lithuania he and his wife have hosted through the years as volunteers with Stony Brook University’s Host Family Program. Photo from Harold Metcalf

A Stony Brook University program is taking a gap year of sorts, and residents are working together with SBU representatives to reinstate it.

“We are very excited about the prospect of this relaunch, and are grateful to be working with community members who are engaged and interested in supporting this program.”

— Lauren Sheprow, SBU spokesperson

For more than 40 years, Stony Brook University’s Host Family Program has been providing opportunities for international students to learn about the United States and the local area by having them develop relationships with volunteer families. Formerly under the direction of Rhona Goldman, of Stony Brook, the program was put on hiatus this year. Several members are in discussions with SBU representatives to bring the program back in the fall of 2019.

According to a statement from the university’s spokesperson Lauren Sheprow, “Stony Brook University’s Host Family Program has been relocated within the Division of International Academic Programs & Services, and thus is being reconfigured to adjust to the expressed needs of our international student population. The evaluation and new configuration should conclude within this academic year, and the program relaunched in preparation for students coming to Stony Brook in the fall of 2019.”

“We are very excited about the prospect of this relaunch, and are grateful to be working with community members who are engaged and interested in supporting this program,” she added.

Harold Metcalf, a Stony Brook faculty member, and his wife, Marilyn, have been hosting students since the early 1970s. He said the number of students a family hosts is usually about one or two an academic year but sometimes more. The majority are graduate students at SBU, but every once in a while an undergrad takes part in the program. Metcalf said host families help with a variety of activities like taking students to social events, driving them to the mall and even helping them navigate the U.S. banking system and postal service, adding that many of the graduate students haven’t traveled outside of their countries or even seen snow.

“We bring students to our houses for dinners and celebrations and all kinds of things, and in exchange we have the culture of the world brought into our homes.”

—Harold Metcalf

“One student said, ‘If I go out when the temperature is below freezing, I’m afraid my blood will freeze,’” he said.

Metcalf said the students and host families benefit in turn from the program.

“We bring students to our houses for dinners and celebrations and all kinds of things, and in exchange we have the culture of the world brought into our homes,” he said.

Once a student is assigned to a family, it is up to them as to how much time to invest in activities with their host family. Metcalf said many of the students he has hosted through the decades have become a part of his family, and he is still in touch with many of them. Recently he visited with a student he hosted in the ’70s and had the opportunity to meet the man’s grandchildren.

“That’s how long these relationships last,” he said, adding from time to time he’ll receive a letter or email from someone asking if he remembers him or her.

Based on discussions with university representatives, Metcalf is optimistic the program will return, but he said there are no guarantees.

Forrest McMullen, of South Setauket, said he and his wife Doris Anne started participating in the program in 1986 and just recently stopped hosting students. He said they have shared their stories with SBU representatives and hope to see the host program reinstated. Some of his fondest memories include walking a former student down the aisle at her wedding, and he remembers one young man who brought a new girlfriend to his house to meet them, and then asking him what he thought of her.

“For some of these students, it’s just a lifelong thing,” McMullen said. “We feel we have international grandkids now, because some of them have had children.”

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