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Troy homestay program offers learning experiences

With Troy University set to begin classes August 11, many international students will begin to arrive in Troy over the next few weeks.

Like any new college student, finding a place to live is often a top priority.

However, some international students are able to find the comforts of a home atmosphere while living thousands of miles from their actual homes.

Troy University’s Homestay Program pairs international students with local families, enabling students to live in an American household.

According to International Student Advisor Maria Frigge, this living arrangement is one that is most beneficial for international students.

“Most of the families contact me, and we just go from there,” Frigge said.

“A lot of students want to be involved with this program because it’s a great thing for them. It’s the best fastest and easiest way to learn the culture and the language.”

The program currently accommodates five students, but Frigge said she hopes there will be an increase in participation.

“This is a program that we’re really trying to revitalize right now,” Frigge said.

“We would really like to find some more families to host students. Most of these families knew someone in the department and got involved that way. But, we do distribute brochures at the different churches around because we want more people who aren’t connected to the department to get involved.”

One such homestay pairing has been that of Emily Bohanan and Mohammed Almarri.

Almarri, a native of Saudi Arabia, has been living with Bohanan and her family since January.

During that time, both Almarri and Bohanan said the living arrangement has been a cultural learning experience.

“It has been fun teaching him the basic things about American culture, but it’s also been fun learning things about his culture,” Bohanan said.

For Almarri, many of his new learning experiences have been domestic in nature.

“I don’t really know ho to cook and clean,” Almarri said.

“I can only cook eggs, so they help me a lot. They have taught me a lot about the culture. It is a different culture from our culture in Saudi Arabia, and they have helped me to learn so much. They help me with anything I need. They take me to the university sometimes, and really help me all the time.”

For Bohanan, the experience of living with an international student is one she sought out because she thought it would be a positive experience for her family.

“I have a college-aged daughter who recently moved out, and we had the extra room,” Bohanan said. “Plus, I had an interest in international affairs previously. I visited a foreign country after I graduated high school, and I wanted my kids to be involved with a different culture. It’s been a great experience for the whole family.”

Almarri, meanwhile, said he has thoroughly enjoyed his time in the Bohanan home, as well.

“I love this family,” he said.

While the experience has been great for all parties involved, it did not come without its adjustment period.

“Everything is so different here,” Almarri said. “They took me fishing, and that was very different from Saudi Arabia. I also went to my first wedding, and American weddings are very different from our weddings back home.”

Bohanan, meanwhile, said she was surprised to learn that even eating meals is fundamentally different for foreign students.

“He had to learn how we eat because they don’t use utensils in Saudi Arabia,” Bohanan said.

“They use bread to pick things up. But, one of the good things is that he loves vegetables, so it’s good to have someone else in the house who loves vegetables as much as I do.”

While Frigge and the rest of the International Student department are seeking ways to grow the homestay program, it is not the only way for local people to get involved.

A smaller, less-involved program called International Friends is also offered, and is patterned after that of Big Brothers & Big Sisters.

That program can often be a bridge to the homestay program, as it was in the case of Bohanan.

“I found out through friends about the program, but I had also been involved with the International Friends program for about two or three years,” Bohanan said. “I had been out to help the students move in the past, so I had an interest in international students for quite a while.”

Those interested in either program can contact Frigge at 334-808-6146 or via e-mail at lfrigge@troy.edu.

“We are just thankful for any family who is interested, and we would be more than happy to have them,” Frigge said.