Our International Students Enjoy Family Hospitality
by Fernando Quintero
For the past 14 years, Berkeley writer Deanne Stone has opened her home to 16 students from three different continents.
She has made several new friends, developed a deeper understanding of other cultures and helped introduce foreigners to American living.
For Stone, perhaps the greatest benefit of hosting participants in UC Berkeley Extension's English Language Program is the way it changed her own way of looking at life.
"It got me to think differently about the way I live my life, and the way I maintain relationships with people," Stone said.
"As Americans, I believe we are brought up to be more private than people from other cultures. I have learned from the students who have stayed with me that spending time with family and friends is a healthier way to live."
Stone is one of hundreds of area residents who share their homes and their lives with English Language Program students.
Each year, more than 2,000 foreign students, professionals and others participate in the language program to improve their English proficiency, enrolling in sessions that last from three to eight weeks.
In addition, several new programs at UC Extension will begin this spring. Housing for an additional 300 students will be needed.
The program's housing office is responsible for finding a home for nearly all of them.
While many students seek the kind of unique living experience only a stay in Berkeley could provide, a growing number of participants are looking to stay with the kind of traditional American family they see on television shows back home.
"Many students visualize the perfect American family with mom, dad and the kids all sitting around the dinner table--that's a vanishing breed around here," said Odette Larde, program housing coordinator.
With such a high demand for housing with a traditional family, Larde and her staff have gone beyond the city limits of Berkeley over the hills to Orinda, where more than 215 families have opened their homes to students from other lands.
"This type of housing gives the student the opportunity to observe and participate in an American household as an 'honorary member,'" said Orinda program director Mary Honens, whose own children have been guests in other countries.
In addition to accommodations with families, students may also choose to rent an entire apartment or just a room. In either case, students pay monthly rent and contribute toward meals. As an "honorary" member of a household, a student may be expected to participate in housekeeping chores. A variety of university and privately owned residence halls is also made available.
Larde said safety has become a top priority for the majority of students looking for housing, which is why many have chosen to live with suburban families. She said she would like to have more faculty and staff from Berkeley and other nearby communities to participate as hosts.
Students in the language program hail from around the globe, with a large percentage coming from Japan, China and, most recently, Korea.
"We get many interesting people," said Larde, like one student who was high on a list of students sought by the Chinese government for involvement in the Tiananmen Square incident. Another student was famous in her native country for her bridal gown designs.
Faculty and staff interested in sharing or renting their homes or apartments with an English Language Program participant should contact the program's housing office at