Homestay Host Biographies
Featured host: Teresa French
Once a Firefighter, Now a Goodwill Ambassador
One of the Teresa French's most touching experiences as a homestay host took place after September 11, 2001.
Teresa, now a retired firefighter, was on active duty at the World Trade Center that day. It was a building she knew well. As a homestay host, she had often taken her visiting international students there for photo excursions. Her students never forgot those visits. After the attacks, they called Teresa from all over the world. Her former guests also sent her photos of themselves posing with her at the top of one of the buildings.
Teresa, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, has been a homestay host since 1997. Since that time she and her family have hosted students from many countries, including Japan, Korea, China, Italy, France, Switzerland, Colombia, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Belgium.
Teresa is an observant woman and she sees the cultural differences among the students who stay with her. Czech girls, she says, like fashion, Korean boys seem very independent, and Italian boys make themselves right at home.
Despite their varied backgrounds, however, her guests share similar concerns. If they are younger, they are worried about their education, their families and where their lives are headed. If they are older, they are focused on their children and their bills. There's something else her students share in common, as well: They all have dreamt about coming to study and live in New York City. Two students Teresa remembers well are a single German woman and her five-year-old son, whom Teresa hosted shortly after the Berlin wall came down. The woman's goal her entire life had been to come to New York.
One of the most fulfilling things about hosting is seeing the students happy, Teresa says. "I like to see them enjoying themselves and getting to see the city," she comments. The students often cry when they leave. Even though it's sad, Teresa knows that it's because they had such a good time. "They're all wonderful," she says. "They are special people just to come on this adventure. They are fulfilling their dreams."
Since she became a host, she has been invited by former students to three Japanese weddings. She also gets more than 20 Christmas cards every year from all over the world and has received numerous regional gifts from her students. They have brought her Saki sets and folding fans from Japan, a crystal vase from the Czech Republic, wine from Spain and France, salami and cheese from Italy, sweet treats from Korea, coffee table books about the students' countries, and moonshine from Slovakia! Two of Teresa's homestay students met when they were both staying in her home, fell in love and got married.
Teresa's mother Joan, brother Bob, and her son Daniel enjoy the students as well. Daniel, who is four years old, learns a lot from them. The students talk a lot to Daniel. They may feel less inhibited around him because he is so young. Bob enjoys watching baseball with students and likes to explain the game to them. Many of her students go shopping and the girls in particular like to come home and show Teresa's family what they have bought. "Everything is so cheap!" they say.
Teresa said all together her and her family's hosting experience has been wonderful because her students are so sweet, interesting and funny. That they like her, too, is illustrated by their outpouring of concern after 9/11.