One of the special features of NSL is that you get to live with a local American family who have been specially selected, vetted and trained for their program support role. They do it out of the goodness of their hearts. They are not paid or receive any compensation other than the pleasure that your company brings them, and the satisfaction that they are supporting a worthy cause.
The host family experience is an essential aspect of the NSL program, since interaction with a local family is critical to the students’ deeper understanding of American life and culture. When you place a young Israeli and a young Palestinian under the same roof with the same Host Parents, you create deep social bonds that are rooted in the history, customs and rituals of that particular family. It is a powerful and intimately shared experience, one that gives rise to a shared story that binds two otherwise unconnected young people into one local American tradition. The host family experience unfailingly proves to be one of the most enduring legacies in the programs we are most familiar with, and serves as testimony to the fact that personal relationships do matter most of all.
Like the internship, you need to understand the deal. Host Families agree to offer you bed and board and an American Family experience within the limits of their time and resources. They are not expecting to be just hotel managers for you, and you are not to expect that you only use the Host Family as a place to sleep. Host Families want to get to know you, they want to welcome you into their family and home and share their story with you. And they want to hear your story, and gain from you a deeper understanding of what is going on in your part of the world.
Though Host Families are also busy professionals, they want to share the program with you as much as possible. So if you are giving a speech say at the Congressional Forum, they will normally expect you to tell them about it and they want to be there in support. As for other events and happenings of the program, though they will normally get updates from the NSL office, they also like to hear from you as to how you are doing, what is exciting, what you find interesting. They want you to engage them, and they want to engage you.
Some of the feedback over many years that we hear from Host Families is that they are most disappointed when their student has not made the time and effort to engage and get to know them as people. Of course, the program has a busy busy schedule but because the program views the Host Families as the most important part of the whole program, the schedule is arranged to maximise the quality time that students can spend with their host families. So NSL expects the students to honor that commitment. Be creative, cook a meal, do something special so that your family know you truly appreciate their generosity.
One has only to put yourself in the Host Families shoes to understand that they don’t get paid but they don’t do the hosting for nothing. They need to get something out of it, and they need to feel that their Host son or daughter really did honor their hospitality by the time and energy they put in to bond with their host parents. The ultimate test is at the end, did they have such a good experience that they would gladly invite you back, and gladly take another intern just as good as you from the program next year.
Like the intern places, the program to succeed needs to have an army of happy and satisfied Host Families, and though the program can be as supportive of you to make the most of your host family experience, its success largely depends on you. And that is why we selected you, because we felt you could make a success of this cultural immersion. You welcomed the chance to master the art of cross-cultural communication.