Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 19, 1994

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
    "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
     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
    "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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