Home sweet home?

The Henshaw family with their children and Homestay students.

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When the coronavirus pandemic came bearing down on U.S. college campuses, most students returned to their homes, albeit more abruptly than usual.

But for some students, that just wasn’t possible. For many international students, especially those from China, going home wasn’t an option. So Denison launched an initiative called the Homestay program, to find these students homes with families in the Granville area.

Within just a couple of days, Jeremy King, director of sustainability & campus improvement, assembled a team of experts from across campus divisions. After a number of long planning sessions and late-night hours, they were able to find short-and -long term homes for 69 students with 50 local families. The families agreed to host students in their homes for up to eight weeks, providing beds, study spaces, and home-cooked meals.

For Denison faculty Erin and Tom Henshaw, it’s been a “… pleasant surprise how fully both young men have been willing to fold into the family activities and how good with the kids they have been,” says Tom, a visiting professor for environmental studies. “Casper plays soccer and basketball every day with our children, Adaline and Cade. Overall it’s actually been pretty fun. The biggest challenge (honestly) is the doubling of our food budget for the month.”

Ruohao Wu and Yuan Liu, both Class of 2022, are staying with another homestay family, and they’re appreciative of a stable home with “…good food and a place to sleep and study. I think my friends back home in China aren’t studying as hard as I am,” says Wu.

“Asper plays soccer and basketball every day with our children, Adaline and Cade. Overall it’s actually been pretty fun.”

Their fellow Denison homestay friends are doing well too, though they can find communication a little challenging — though not necessarily because of their English skills. Students are essentially outsiders moving into a family unit complete with inside jokes and set social patterns. “When you are moving into a family, it’s different than moving into a dorm,” says Liu. “You have to learn to communicate like they do, which can take some time to understand.”

For Denison Men’s Lacrosse Coach Mike Caravana and his wife Ashlin, the Homestay program has been a good experience. “We have extra bedrooms and are close to campus. Our youngest son is college-aged and had just returned from his study abroad. We thought having two young people in the house would keep both of them slightly more entertained,” says Ashlin.

“And having a ‘guest’ in the house makes me step up my game a little. Since our homestay student arrived we’ve had sit down dinners every night!”

April 16, 2020