I’ll share my own personal experience with hosting, with tips on the do’s and don’t’s of a great experience.
The ELI Special Programs team offers opportunities to host junior high and high school students from Isesaki, Japan. Anyone can sign up to be a host – an individual, a couple, a family, even local high school students.
There are three options each year. Two in late May, when high school students visit from Springfield’s Sister City, Isesaki. The second, in early August, brings junior high students from Isesaki to Springfield.
Sign-up to host on a simple online form. You’ll receive the names of two students to host, though you’re welcome to request more. The ELI-SP team will also let you know if they’ve already enjoyed any local activities. Ideally, you’ll be able to share something new with your students. Finally, any allergies your students have are included so you can avoid any illness.
I’ve hosted twice. A few years ago my boyfriend and I hosted two junior high boys. We signed up again this May, but last minute work travel on his part left me as a single host. While initially intimidating, it turned out to be a great day with Takaki and Kiichi, two young men in 11th grade at Yotsuba School.
There are very few requirements for hosting. Hosts are asked to keep students safe and share a “normal” day with them.
Here’s my first major piece of advice! Our first host experience was a blast, but exhausting for both the students and ourselves. We did EVERYTHING. Go-carts, putt-putt, Bass Pro, lunch at Five Guys, Skyzone, and a movie. I was so eager for the students to have a good time that we overdid it in a big way. We didn’t get to know them in a meaningful way. The students fell asleep during the goodbye dinner that evening. We were also exhausted, not to mention broke after all those activities.
This year I listened to the ELI-SP team’s advice to share a “normal” day. I asked Takaki and Kiichi about themselves and what they wanted to do first. This was their second visit to Springfield, so they’d already seen some of our major attractions. They had two requests – Bass Pro and Walmart. Easy!
We started at Bass Pro for photo opportunities and the fish feeding show. It was my first time watching and it was fascinating. There were only seven of us total in the show, so we were able to ask lots of questions. All three of us were surprised at how tame the fish were with the handler. After the show we purchased our obligatory Bass Pro trucker caps to wear for the rest of the day.
In my effort to be “normal” I told the guys I needed to run a couple of quick errands. They were fun errands – I didn’t make them go to the DMV or anything!
First, we hit the veterinary clinic to pick up cat food for my needy cats. We all enjoyed meeting the other animals at the clinic, including a visiting flock of baby quail.
Continuing the animal theme, our next stop was Petsmart. We recently moved to a home with a backyard pond so I wanted to add some goldfish. A local animal rescue happened to be out also, so we met some pups before we picked out our fish. We had a good laugh over the “Japanese” fish foods and supplies (produced in the US).
We were hungry after all our animal husbandry, so we headed home to grill. I thought grilling burgers might be of cultural and/or dude interest, but I was wrong. The Xbox was a much bigger draw, so the guys took on Grand Theft Auto while I made lunch.
Grilled burgers were a huge hit. I happened to have some ground beef from my grandfather’s cattle farm for the burgers. The guys liked them so much that we decided to visit the source.
Francka Farms is north of Springfield, near Bolivar. Kiichi and Takaki DJ’d our drive and shared their favorite J-Pop hits. We danced and sang the whole trip.
The drive was well worth it. Frank Francka, my grandfather, showed the guys some of his farm implements. It’s hay season, so he explained how he grows and harvests food for the cattle in addition to raising animals. Then we went out to pasture to check the herd. It was a gorgeous day for a drive in a pick-up. Neither Kiichi nor Takaki had visited a farm before so they were in awe of the land and the animals.
My parents live down the road from the farm so we decided to swing by to meet them on our way back to Springfield. When Takaki and Kiichi saw their pond, they immediately asked if we could fish. So we got out the rods and tried our luck – only Kiichi saw success until we spotted a snapping turtle. Then it was a team effort to catch the turtle and relocate him so he didn’t eat the fish.
This is where I remind all my coworkers in ELI Special Programs that I kept the guys very safe all day. No one lost any fingers or toes to the turtle, though it did make me nervous!
No one caught a catfish, though seeing them in the water prompted the guys to share the legend of Namazu with us. Namazu is a giant catfish said to live beneath Japan. The god Kashima stands guard over him, but when he’s distracted Namazu thrashes. This explained frequent earthquakes to many ancient Japanese people. We loved learning about a Japanese legend from Kiichi and Takaki.
We dropped by Walmart on our way back into Springfield. The guys wanted to buy small souvenirs to take back to their families. They were so thoughtful! Gifts in hand, we headed back to campus to end the day. No one fell asleep or spent too much money.
It’s probably just me, but as a host, I feel pressure to make sure students experience a variety of activities they enjoy. I try to think about what I would want to see if the situation were reversed. I can find tourist destinations on my own, but it’s harder to live like locals when you travel. The students are usually too polite to make any specific requests.
Providing options can be helpful to everyone involved. I recommend having 2-3 low-key options for activities at your home. My own FOMO requires me to take students out and about too. Whatever works for you and your guests is great! You’ll all have a better day and learn more about each other if you don’t do too much. Make time to talk and reflect on the experience throughout the day.
Host opportunities conclude with a farewell party honoring the students. ELI Special Programs staff present certificates to each participant. Students may perform or make their own presentations about their time in Springfield. Their visit is short, but the impact is high.
You’ll realize the visit had an impact on you as well. Takiki and Kiichi gave me thank-you notes at their farewell celebration. They outlined their favorite parts of the day and the memories they would carry with them, thanking me for hosting them. I should have also written them one for sharing new things with me and helping me see my everyday life from a new perspective.