Hosts with the Most, Part 2: Interns!

As promised, this week Immersed brings you what the hosting experience is like from a slightly different host family experience: hosting The New Century School interns!

Meet the Interns

First up, let’s meet the interns! “Rocky” and “Carlson” (nicknames) are both from Beijing, China and attend (Rocky) or attended (Carson) Beijing Normal University, although they did not know each other back home. They served as TNCS in-class assistants from January 17th through February 15th. Both had wonderful experiences and were thrilled to have been at TNCS. They loved every minute of it! As you will very quickly see, TNCS was incredibly fortunate to have welcomed them. They are two very special people and were universally loved by staff and students alike during their stay.

img_0710Rocky, age 23, was in Kiley Stasch’s kindergarten and 1st-grade classroom and also helped Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”). A graduate law student in his first semester, he naturally organizes his thoughts and draws logical connections. Thus, he describes the three aspects of his visit to the United States that made it so meaningful to him:

The first is travel. I used my free time to visit places around the United States, like New York City, Philadelphia, and New Haven to visit Yale University law school. I also went to a lot of museums. The second is the time I spent with my host family. They are so nice and so good. They provided a lot of resources for us and a lot of help. [Ed. note: Awwwwwwwww!] The third part is the volunteer experience. I’m enjoying this time with the children very much. It’s hard to express how much knowledge I learned from this experience, but I can say that it was a very valuable time for me and for my life. I will never forget it. It’s going to be a very beautiful memory.

You might be wondering how and why a future criminal lawyer ended up volunteering in childhood education. Rocky explains, “The answer is very easy. As an undergraduate, I majored in physical education.” Not surprisingly, then, one of his favorite teaching moments at TNCS was when he got to teach t’ai chi to the elementary and middle school students. “I’m so happy they liked it!” he said. As it turns out, Rocky is a national champion (and now the origin of his nickname starts to become clear) of t’ai chi in China.

Regarding the students, he found them “open” and “full of energy,” qualities that he found both endearing as well as helpful. Communicating and interacting with them was very easy, he says, whereas Chinese kids of the same age are generally pretty shy. “They don’t want to talk. They’ll just work by themselves. I was glad to find that Ms. Stasch’s students had no trouble asking for my help or to play games.”

After departing Baltimore, the two interns were headed to Chicago. From there, Carlson headed home and Rocky made one final trip to Los Angeles to visit some Chinese friends studying at UCLA before returning to China by February 25th to resume graduate school studies.

img_0714Carson, age 25 and a postgraduate in child development psychology, interned in Mr. McGonigal’s 2nd- and 3rd-grade homeroom. Although not his first time to North America (he was once an exchange student in Canada), this was his first visit to the United States. He describes his experience this way:

During this month, the experience has been very special and a chance to compare the characteristics of Chinese and American educational systems. I think they are very different. American students are very active, especially in the class. In the classroom I volunteered in, the students are so open. The answers they gave to questions from the teacher impressed me. They are very clever and very cute.

Carson found that the lack of reserve he saw in TNCS students led them to make intellectual discoveries and be receptive and curious. This was a very positive aspect of American education in his estimation. On why he wanted this volunteer experience, he says, “I wanted to learn more about the characteristics of children and the differences in the psychology between American and Chinese students. It’s interesting and useful research for me in my future career.”

He also enjoyed traveling to various cities around the country, with the museums in Washington, D.C. being a highlight for him. “It was amazing for me to learn more about American culture,” he said.

Carson says he will miss a lot about his experience once he has returned home, but one thing he will remember fondly was celebrating Chinese New Year abroad for the first time. “It was a very special experience for me,” he smiled. Top of the list, though, is his host family [Ed note: Awwwwwww!].

Meet the Host Family

As described, a huge part of the richness of both interns’ exchange experience was their host family, the Browning/Desais. After reading TNCS Admissions Director Dominique Sanchies’ email describing the need for wintertime host families, they thought hosting would be a lot of fun for their three children. “The process through the agency was very easy,” said Ms. Browning, “we just filled out a 1-page form and were sent a 25-page handbook. The agency checked in with us after the first day and went over everyone’s roles and responsibilities.”

We wanted two interns,” she explained, “and that worked out really well. They did their homework [assigned by their agency and related to their volunteer program] together, hung around together, compared notes, etc.”

Fun for the children happened in spades, but Ms. Browning was pleasantly surprised by how much she and her husband also enjoyed hanging out with Rocky and Carson after the kids went to bed. “They were super interesting to talk to,” she said, “and we all had a lot of fun together.”

It was clear to the Browning/Desais that the interns were reaping a lot from their exchange experience. “They were so nice and so grateful to be here. Everything was an honor for them, they said—even washing the dishes, which we did not expect them to do! That was an added perk!” she laughed. They lent their helping hands frequently—and, with two students to get to TNCS plus a baby (and a cello), Ms. Browning was appreciative of their innate desire to be of service in small ways such as holding doors open for her.

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Besides the fun it promised, the Browning/Desais had another impetus for becoming a host family. The saw it as a way to make a statement about welcoming people from other countries: “We want to show our kids who we are and what this kind of ‘mini-activism’ can do” she explained. Hosting also ties into TNCS’s ethos, and the Browning/Desais have been part of the TNCS community for years.

“We got to experience Chinese New Year (Rocky is a rooster in the Chinese zodiac and Carson a goat, by the way) with them, and that was great. We went to D.C. to see the celebration at the Sackler and Ripley Center at the Smithsonian, which was spectacular. Rocky and Carson then took the “wheel” and escorted them to Chinatown for a hotpot meal, a new experience for the Browning/Desais and featuring such exotic ingredients as cowtail.

As other host families have similarly described, time together was precious, and there never seems to be enough of it. “They traveled around some,” said Ms. Browning,” “but when they were in Baltimore, they were with us 100%.” Other outings they enjoyed together included TNCS’s night with the Baltimore Blast. Rocky and Carson had never seen a soccer match, let alone a live one, and they were amazed. They also got to watch their first Super Bowl, but Ms. Browning reports that despite the excitement of that game, they were much more impressed by Lady Gaga’s halftime show. (Of course, things would have been different had the Ravens been playing.)

“Other than that, we spent a lot of time just hanging out,” said Ms. Browning. Both interns liked to work out, and Rocky gave some more personalized t’ai chi lessons to the Desai children, which the kids not only loved but was also a great way for them to expend energy before bedtime!

The difference in personality between the two interns also played well with the Desai children. “Rocky was the energetic, playful one, and Carson was the love-bug,” said Ms. Browning. The two complemented each other perfectly, she said. Another unexpected benefit was hearing about their kids’ academic performance, especially regarding their Chinese language ability, from the interns’ unique vantage point as classroom volunteers and native Chinese speakers.

Once again, feeding their interns proved to be one of the biggest surprises the Browning/Desais met with, but not in the same way that some of TNCS’s other host families have described (see Hosts with the Most, Part 1). They happily ate whatever was served to them (spaghetti was not a breakfast requirement!), but, given his energy expenditure and to maintain his muscle volume, Rocky has to eat four times the amount of protein an average adult male consumes. Ms. Browning quickly adjusted and quadrupled every recipe she cooked, and she made sure she prepared a wide variety of foods so they could try lots of new things, such as tacos and lasagne. “It was a real ego-booster—they even took pictures of the meals.” Fortunately, the Browning/Desais got stipends for hosting each intern that covered the cost of room and board. Also, whereas the younger exchange students were not accustomed to eating cold meals, Rocky and Carson fell immediately in love with sandwiches. Chili was Rocky’s favorite, though, which they ate for the first time while watching the “Big Game,” and sweets also were a big deal, because at home he’s always training and has to avoid sugar altogether. They also enjoyed a visit to MOM’s organic market and were amazed by some of the unfamiliar vegetables, let alone the section of sustainable proteins (colloquially known as the “bar of dead bugs”).

The Browning/Desais also hosted a student age 7 during the Winter Exchange Program and so have a dual perspective on hosting. The student’s stay overlapped with Rocky’s and Carson’s, but she was shy and did not interact much with the interns. The Browning/Desais are emphatic that they would host again but feel that having interns rather than students was a better fit for their household, at least for the time being.

Carson sums up the experience he and Rocky shared with the Browning/Desais with these heartwarming words:

In my homestay, something very good happened. They are very nice and made me feel at home. I have many words to express, but it’s very difficult. In one word, I would say, “unforgettable.” If I have any opportunity to come again, I definitely want to. It was very special.

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