Campus, News

Boston University Thanksgiving Homestay Program kicks off first year

Vanessa Hayashi (left) (CAS ’18) participated in the Boston University Homestay program through Marsh Chapel, which allowed students to stay in homes of local families during Thanksgiving break. PHOTO COURTESY OF VANESSA HAYASHI
Vanessa Hayashi (left) (CAS ’18) participated in the Boston University Homestay program through Marsh Chapel, which allowed students to stay in homes of local families during Thanksgiving break. PHOTO COURTESY OF VANESSA HAYASHI

In an effort to share the Thanksgiving tradition and accommodate those who were unable to return home during the five-day break, several Boston University student groups across campus organized the first campus Thanksgiving Homestay Program for students to stay with a host family for the holiday.

Thanksgiving Homestay, which is a collaboration between Marsh Chapel, the Parents Program, Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground and Elevate of the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity, placed four undergraduate students with three different hosts in the Boston area and in New Jersey, said Cambria Davies, head program coordinator of the program.

“One host said she had an amazing time hosting the two girls she hosted,” she said. “It was so rewarding and inspiring to hear her story and to know that she wants us to move forward with the program. It is also great that we had information sessions and a lot of students came out and ask more about the program. The students want to stay with hosts and learn about Thanksgiving. It’s so gratifying to see that with the program.”

The hosts, which could include students and their families at home, local families, students in apartments, alumni, administration or faculty, provided accommodations and meals for their student guests, Davies said.

“We had over 70 student applications, but finding host families proved to be more challenging than we had thought. We ended up securing three hosts, although one host accommodated two students,” Davies said in an email prior to her interview. “Although it wasn’t exactly what we had hoped for, we’re still really happy with the program because it’s made a big impact on those that have participated. We think it’s a good starting point, and we’re excited to grow the program more in the future.”

Davies said the idea to start the program began when she noticed several undergraduate parents showing concern about their children not celebrating the holiday at home.

“I started doing some research, and I stumbled upon Thanksgiving homestay programs at other universities,” Davies said. “I set about finding a department or organization on campus that would help me run this. I didn’t have any luck at first. Eventually, I met with the dean of Marsh Chapel, and I found a team to work with there on the Global Ministry staff. Once they came on board, the rest followed like dominos.”

In fall 2013, Student Government Senate passed an initiative based on Davies’ idea supported by the Overarching Executive Council of the Residence Hall Association and Department of Social Affairs, The Daily Free Press reported.

Andrew Cho, SG president of the OEC and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the Thanksgiving Homestay Program is a good option for students.

“The program is great for international students and anyone not from the Boston area, but it wasn’t utilized to its full potential,” Cho said. “For one, most students on campus aren’t allowed to stay if they don’t have an apartment. It can be difficult and lonely for students to stay in a hotel.”

Several students who participated in the homestay program said they had good experiences and would participate in the program again in the future.

Vanessa Hayashi, a freshman in the said the program offered a traditional experience of the American holiday.

“The program is convenient. You can be near your dorm when you want to come back, and it isn’t a hassle involving an airport, and you can enjoy an American Thanksgiving,” she said.

Hayashi stayed with a family outside of Boston for Thanksgiving and experienced snow for the first time. She said she definitely would participate in the program again next year because she loved the experience.

Manike De Wet, a sophomore in CAS, said the homestay program offered a better alternative to BU’s vacation housing.

“I found the advertisement and application online and on the BU Facebook page,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t have anywhere to go. I was planning to go to a hotel, but you could get a typical Thanksgiving meal and spend time with an American family. It definitely was a better choice.”

De Wet said her South Boston hosts offered a great Thanksgiving celebration, and she helped decorate their Christmas tree. She said she will continue participating in the program next year.

Danika Guiley, a co-student coordinator of the program, said more preparation will go into next year’s program, which will hopefully involve more host families and foreign exchange programs.

“For next year, we will be doing a lot more prep work,” Guiley, a sophomore in the School of Management, said in an email. “I will be spending more time in the beginning contacting other host families outside of the BU community. I am hoping to get to speak with some of the language departments at some of the neighboring high schools as well and try to get contacts within the foreign exchange programs in the New England area.”

Davies said she will use this year as a basis for planning further improvements for the program.

“Now that we have the first pilot year of the program under our belt, we think it’ll be easier to secure host families and get them excited to participate,” she said. “We also have hosts that volunteered this year, one faculty member in particular, that’s passionate about growing the program in the future because she had such a great experience.”

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