Host Program Offers Students Sample of Hopkins Family Life By Sujata Massey Robert and Ruth Lawson Walsh were relaying stories about family outings over the years: trips to a mushroom farm and the Old Waverly History Exchange and Tea Room. But the Walshes, retired advertising and public relations executives, were not discussing quality time spent with their own grown children. The pair spoke to about 150 participants in Alumni Relations' Baltimore Host Family Program as experienced hosts. "With all deference to the food service at Hopkins and Peabody, a home-cooked meal is always a welcome change," Ruth Walsh said. "No matter how small and delicate those students may appear, they always are able to eat a big meal. When people say food is love, it's really true." Marguerite Ingalls-Jones, associate director of alumni relations, said the Walshes are a good example of what happens when new students and members of the Hopkins community come together. "It is important for new students to feel an immediate sense of connection with the Hopkins family, and it is a wonderful opportunity to give people hospitality in a new environment," Ingalls-Jones said. "But it's a two-way street; the hosts get something out of it, too. It builds relationships within their family, and keeps them abreast of what life at Hopkins is like." Fannie Fonseca-Becker and her husband, Stan, an associate professor in population dynamics at the School of Hygiene and Public Health, decided to host students after being treated kindly when they lived abroad. They are multilingual, and between the two of them may speak Bengali, French, Spanish, German and Italian with the students. This year, they are hosting three students from Egypt, Colombia and Brazil. "We enjoy practicing our languages, and it's really great to meet students from those countries and others," said Fonseca-Becker, a Colombia-born SHPH alumna who works as a consultant on nutrition and public health initiatives. She spoke to the crowd about the fun she has each year when up to 20 foreign students come to Thanksgiving dinner. Because the Beckers are vegetarians, they prepare a giant stuffed squash instead of turkey. "We have everything else: the cranberries, the sweet potatoes," Fonseca-Becker said. "Stan tells them about when the Pilgrims came, and we have a silent grace, which is so unifying." Fonseca-Becker said each relationship with a student is unique. A student with children might need help locating a neighborhood with good public schools; someone arriving at Hopkins alone may want help shopping for furniture, or simply an invitation to dinner. The program encourages at least two face-to-face contacts per semester, and there are no financial obligations for the hosts. Michael Leonard, a single alumnus of the School of Medicine, is hosting three students this year: two graduate students from China and an undergraduate from Hong Kong. For an ice-breaker, he planned a trip to see Eat Drink Man Woman, an acclaimed Taiwanese film. In the past, he's offered pingpong, cookouts and driving tours of Baltimore. "Since I grew up in Baltimore, I know a little about Baltimore history," Leonard said. He also brings his students to his parents' home for traditional holiday meals and activities. "I've found my students with the greatest needs are the students from mainland China," Leonard said. "Oftentimes they have never driven a car and are really overwhelmed by our system. It takes a while for them to adjust." Though hosts are not expected to follow up with students after their first year at Hopkins, Leonard has remained close to a Chinese student now in his third year. He recently helped the young man learn to drive, get a driver's license and buy a car. Such friendships are the result of careful matching by Patrick Russell, assistant director of alumni relations and co-coordinator of the host program with Ingalls-Jones. "We prioritize things we feel are important. We feel the international students need the program most; next, the domestic students whose homes are distant from Baltimore. Then I start going into things like academic interests and hobbies," Russell said. "It gets really specific, and I literally finger through these applications to match people." The demand for host families always exceeds the number of Hopkins volunteers. This year, 538 students from locations as near as Philadelphia and far away as Cairo requested families; 174 hosts took 208 of those students, leaving 330 unmatched. Hopkins staff, faculty and alumni interested in hosting students may call Alumni Relations at 516-0363.
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