The accommodations aren’t going to be good in a college rental house, but it’s the experience that makes the trip fun for visiting and host students.
Editor’s note: The reporters chose to use first-person in the retelling of their experiences to communicate what it’s like to have a host student.
Though Los Angeles, New York or Washington D.C. seem to be the more obvious destinations for first-time visitors to the United States, 13 students from Hong Kong made Athens their first stop.
From Sept. 11 to Sept. 20, communication students from Hong Kong Baptist University spent 10 days in Athens to get a taste of the everyday work and play of American college students.
Bob Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, and his colleague Werner Süss at the University of Leipzig, got in touch with Bonnie Chiu, professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, to form a “triangle” relationship for studying abroad.
Generally, students studying journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University will travel to a country to cover a major news event, such as a national election, she said.
There were no major news events happening in Athens while the students were here. Rather, The students studying journalism, public relations and organizational communication at Hong Kong Baptist University visited classrooms and students’ houses to learn about American education and culture, Chiu said.
Hong Kong Baptist University’s communication students all get an opportunity to study abroad, with costs mostly covered by the university, Chiu said.
Hosting also reduced costs to both the visiting students and the Scripps School of Journalism. OU’s school of journalism paid about $1,500 to cover a meal at Casa Nueva for the group of visitors and hosts, football tickets and rental vans, Stewart said.
Stewart employed what he called the “couch surfing model” to host the students from Hong Kong, asking students if they had a couch for a visiting student to borrow for a week.
“I don’t want them to stay in a hotel,” Stewart said. “It’s not even close to the same experience. … The fact that you know a student in Hong Kong changes your worldview of Hong Kong.”
Stewart gave the visiting group a list of classes they could attend, but left non-academic activities unplanned.
“I construct an official program: Go to this class, go to that class, but honestly it’s what happens outside of that that’s the most important, and there’s no question about that,” Stewart said.
Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Projects Editor
I froze steps away from the ground floor of my Athens rental house, entranced by the sight out my front window.
There was a tent on my porch.
My roommate’s brother brought a few friends to Athens for the weekend, and instead of camping in the backyard and soaking up the Southeast Ohio rain, they pitched it on the porch to keep dry. On a normal weekend, I’d be fine with these shenanigans.
But this sky-blue, dirt-stained battered tent would be the first impression the student I hosted from Hong Kong would get of Ohio University student life, and by extension, me.
Bob Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, sent out emails at the end of August in search of students who could host visitors from Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication. I quickly checked with my five other roommates, and then offered up one of the two couches in my living room as a place to stay.
But when I volunteered to do something in August, I didn’t realize what my life would be like in September.
The week of Viola’s stay — Sept. 11-20 — would have been a busy week for me on its own. Late night work at The Post, a massive application deadline and upcoming project work kept me on edge all week.
At the same time, I imagined myself in Viola’s shoes, having one week on a college campus with a lot of free time to burn. I would want to take in everything I could, but I know she would not be able to drive. Athens can not offer the same adventures Chicago, D.C. or even Columbus would.
I wanted to keep my host student happy.
I planned to take her through the highlights of Southeast Ohio, starting by sampling pawpaws and shopping for crafts at the Pawpaw Festival. But college responsibilities dashed my plans two nights in a row, keeping me out of the house working long after I should have been asleep.
Eventually,Viola and the other visiting students visited my foreign correspondence class on Tuesday, and as we sat through a lecture from a visiting professor, I finally realized the purpose of their trip.
I did not need to worry too hard about showing Viola everything Athens had to offer. She was here to see what life was like for me and the other College of Communication students: the classes we take, the rushed deadlines, the extracurriculars and the small amount of free time surrounding all of that.
I started to relax and work with the schedule I had. Some nights I had to work late or hide in my room with a pile of homework. But we also worked in some time to go to restaurants Uptown, explore The Ridges and watch the Republican Party debate — followed by watching the cartoon Rick and Morty — in my living room.
Eating sandwiches and watching candidates squabble are not inherently fun activities. Rather, It was the conversations we had that made the week a blast, at least for me.
I discovered Viola and I had a lot in common, especially when it comes to investigating and telling a story. Viola came to OU for the experience of living with an American college student and she got it.
She probably did not realize what was in store for her when we first introduced ourselves through email: six roommates, noisy neighbors and random trips to West Virginia.
But Viola embraced the weird, wacky and sometimes awkward moments inherent to living with me, which is exactly what I would have done if our roles were reversed.
Viola Zhou | For The Post
I would be lying to say I had no worries seeing the scarlet corduroy couch I was going to sleep on for the next nine nights. To be honest, I didn’t sleep well the first day. Besides the jet lag, some guys coming home from parties were too noisy outside, and the cold winds of Athens kept blowing on me through the living room windows.
“If only I stayed in a hotel like what I did every time I traveled,” I thought. “Then I would have a quiet space of my own and sleep soundly on a big bed and roll as I want.”
But things changed after three days. When we were asked by a professor what we liked most about Athens, I said it was my host’s lovely place. Couch surfing was no doubt the best thing of this study trip to Ohio University.
The most important reason is I became really close with my lovely host Danielle, another journalism major senior. We talked a lot about college life and our experience of being student journalists, and were surprised by how much we had in common. We share the curiosity and the eagerness to know others’ stories. We are both shy on social occasions but never hesitate to approach a stranger with our notebooks in hand. When Danielle had to work at The Post till 5 a.m., I got the feeling of tiredness and excitement.
I enjoy taking classes with the Bobcats and wandering around the town, but it was couch surfing that enabled me to live the life of American students. I got to know what they cook, what kinds of books they read and what TV shows they like (i.e. a weird cartoon I can never understand). Last week, I watched the Republican candidate debate with Danielle and her friends. They drank beers, made fun of the candidates and shot foam bullets at the TV screen. This is the United States. I would not know from news or textbooks.
Every day after I came home and threw my bag onto the couch, I got to spend time with the cool girls living there and ask as many questions as I wanted. Danielle’s roommate Megan, a gardening expert, brought home huge tomatoes she grew and told me how the axolotl she kept (beside my couch) caught worms. Emily, a physical-therapist-to-be, told me about the rise and fall of Cleveland’s mining industry. The porch cat with yellow and black face was kind to me, too. It was not easy to let a stranger share your bathroom, and be extremely friendly to him/her. The girls (and the cat) are just too nice.
All of my Hong Kong fellows share the same gratitude. One of us joined the host’s family in watching a football game on Parents’ Day Weekend. One girl watched Miss America for the first time with her host, and was amazed by the amount of advertisements. Another host baked brownies for her Hong Kong guest, who thought it was “super delicious.”
None of those wonderful things would happen if we stayed in a hotel with queen beds and free breakfast. And we are so glad we didn’t.
We will take the memories home and share them with friends and families in Hong Kong. One day I will do the same thing as Danielle: welcome others into my life and introduce a totally different world to them. Before that, of course, I need to get an apartment big enough for a couch to fit in, in the city with the world’s most expensive housing.