By Ida Abhari
When I entered my first year at high school – already a new and uncertain time – my mother told me and my sister that our family would start hosting international university students. I thought it would be a fun experience and, having grown up with immigrant parents, I was no stranger to the joys of diversity. At the same time, I was a little bit nervous too. Would I be able to create an authentically American experience for these students? Would they enjoy my home and family?
The day Yuki (our first student) arrived, we tried to make sure she would be as comfortable as possible. Thinking it wouldn’t suit her taste, we didn’t eat our usual traditional Persian food for dinner; we ordered pizza instead. During dinner, we learned that Yuki had never been outside of Japan but that she was excited and open to learning about her new surroundings and broadening her horizon. I quickly saw how kind and understanding she was and that I shouldn’t have worried about her not liking our home. In fact, she told us she wanted to try Persian food, which surprised and pleased us at the same time.
In the coming weeks, we showed Yuki our city. I pointed out the best tofu house, my favorite boba shop, and my high school hangout spot. Though Yuki went back to Japan after finishing her semester abroad, we were fortunate enough to receive many more intriguing students. Hitomi, Miyuki, Tomomi, and Mae, among others, became part of our household and constituted an important part of growing up for me. From them, I learned how things I had previously saw as ordinary were actually quite extraordinary – Miyuki, for example, was thrilled that we had a grill in our backyard. She snapped countless pictures of this grill, something I had seen as a standard household item. She explained that where she lived in Japan, houses and backyards were often too small for such features. Likewise, Hitomi introduced me to the Bath and Body Works store. With its varied and delightfully-scented cosmetic items, I am forever thankful.
I also learned about the importance of having someone with whom to communicate. Some of our students did not feel comfortable using English initially, and we had to make a point to ask questions and draw out their responses. Once we got the hang of it though, it wasn’t so hard. We talked about a variety of topics – Korean dramas, American food portions (a subject that fascinated almost every student we hosted), the weather – and discovered that we weren’t really all that much different. It was just a matter of the language.
I thought hosting international students in our house would be a challenging life change. However, the only changes I saw were the ones positively triggered by the valuable lessons I was learning on a day to day basis, like learning to appreciate sushi or the particular smell of Midnight Pomegranate hand cream. Our students became so interwoven into our family thread, I would forget to mention or explain their presence to visiting friends. Our extended family had just become a normal part of everyday living, another characteristic of growing up. And that’s the way I liked it.
Ida is a junior studying Philosophy and International Relations, and just added a minor in Iranian Studies. A proud Southern California native, Ida gets excited when it rains and considers In-N-Out to be an essential part of any healthy diet. Having grown up with parents who are immigrants themselves, Ida is fluent in Persian and can understand the difficulties of adjusting to a new way of life. Most recently, Ida spent this past summer as an intern in Washington, D.C., and is hoping to broaden her horizons to include study abroad in the near future.