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Coming Home 

From left, Dylan Smith, seated, Mashu Minamoto, standing, with Elliana and Shawn Smith. (Photo, courtesy of Shawn Smith.)

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 3, 2017) – When students from other countries come to UAlbany to study, there is nothing like living with a local family to make them feel at home.

Mashu Minamoto, a student at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, moved to Albany in mid-March to study English in the Intensive English Language Program (IELP) at UAlbany. He will return to Japan at the end of July.

Minamoto, who is from Ikoma, Japan, said he likes his home stay because “I get to practice my English and make a good relationship with the family.”

In Albany Minamoto is staying with Shawn and Maureen Smith, and their two daughters, Elliana, 9, and Dylan, 4. He often has dinner with the family, and enjoys attending family parties and events. He’s celebrated the children’s birthdays, and gone to some of Elliana’s school functions. He’s also seen recent American movies, like Wonder Woman and Beauty and the Beast.

“We involve Mashu in as many of our activities as possible and have tried to show him many of the local activities we enjoy,” said Shawn Smith. “The NYS Museum, OMI sculpture park, various restaurants, stores and area parks. He will be here for the 4th of July and we are hoping to take him to one of the nearby lakes as the weather grows warmer.”

In addition to spending time with his host family, Minamoto has traveled to NYC and Orlando with other students, and has gone on trips to Boston, Howe Caverns and the Adirondack Mountains that were organized by the IELP at UAlbany.

This is Minamoto’s first time in another country, but not his last. After returning to Japan, he will study in Dalian, China, for four months. At Kansai Gaidai University in Japan, he studies English and Chinese.

Associate Vice Provost for International Education Mark Rentz is on a mission to increase the number of families available to host foreign students. While students like Mashu also have the option of living in a residence hall or apartment, there is rising demand for home stays among Japanese universities with students who want to study abroad, Rentz said. Home stays are popular, due to the intensive nature of immersion in culture and language.

Universities from Korea, the Middle East and China are also requesting home stays, said Rentz.

“We have 10 students staying with host families right now and would like to see 100 home stay families in the area in the next year,” Rentz said. He encourages University at Albany faculty and staff to consider hosting an international student. Host families are compensated $600 per student, and may host up to two students at a time for a minimum four-week commitment. In the case of the Smith family, they are hosting Minamoto for four months. It’s been a great experience for all.

To apply to be a home stay family, go to the OvECS LTD website- and click on Becoming a Host. For more information, email the director at myalbanyhomestay@gmail.com or call (518) 888-1622.

Rentz is also managing director of IELP, a full-time, not-for-credit program offered year-round to international students whose native language is not English. After improving their English, many students go on to study at UAlbany for a degree. The program also serves UAlbany’s matriculated international students who want to continue to improve their English language skills.

Part of the Center for International Education & Global Strategy, IELP is located in the Science Library. Fully supported by student tuition, the IELP has helped thousands of international students improve their English language skills since its inception in 1978.

For Shawn and Maureen Smith, this was the first time they have hosted an international student.

“We have never been to Japan and do not speak his language,” said Shawn. “He did take English courses in Japan and was better at reading and writing in English than speaking. Cellphones came in handy: we could either share pictures of things when trying to communicate or translate things between English and Japanese.”

They heard about the home stay program through the Helderberg Neighborhood Association.

While the Smiths have two young children and two dogs, Home Stay hosts can also be empty nesters with a spare bedroom.

The Smiths believe home stays provide greater cultural immersion for students. “Mashu has definitely seen some of our family traditions and activities. I’m sure being around a family that speaks English has helped his language skills,” Shawn said.

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