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Afghan guests
Host families are important ambassadors. It takes a lot of patience, flexibility and an interest in learning about other cultures. Pictured at left: Marge and Eddie Reznicek opened their home to visiting Afghan teachers. photo by Tim Fitzgerald

Host Families Provide Welcoming Environment for Afghan Guests

fall 2004

A group of English teachers from Afghanistan and their Omaha host families found their lives more similar than different as they spent time together during the educators' six-week visit last fall. Twelve women participated in the Afghan Teacher Education Project, a training program coordinated by the UNO Center for Afghanistan Studies and funded by the U.S. State Department. The participants took English language, teaching methods and computer courses, and lived with area families during their stay.

Both the teachers and their host families benefited through a mutual education, understanding and appreciation of American and Afghan culture, notes Raheem Yaseer, assistant director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies. "As with people all over the world, there are some wrong impressions of American family relationships and culture," he says. "We thought the best way to make these things clear and put them in the right perspective was to expose the teachers to the American way of life with their host families." The educators spent time participating in host family functions, sports events and the Thanksgiving holiday. Through everyday activities like preparing and eating meals together, eating popcorn and watching movies, both groups enjoyed the commonalities in their lives and backgrounds. Early on in the visit, the teachers settled into a comfortable routine and took on a role more like that of family members than guests.

"They're very loving people," says Marge Reznicek, who with her husband, Eddie, and Panamanian visitor, Gabriella Prado, hosted teachers Bilqees Habeebi and Mahbooba Ghanizada. Soon after welcoming the pair into their home, the hosts found that the Afghan women referred to the couple as "Marge-jahn" and "Eddie-jahn," an affectionate term that means "dear to me" in the Afghan language.

During their time in Omaha, the teachers observed a mutual respect and kindness from their host families, Yaseer says. "They were very impressed by that kind of thought and by the many commonalities that they shared," he said. Their goodbyes at the end of their visit prompted tears on both sides and a wish that they could see each other again some day. "I think their visit really changed things for us," Reznicek says, "and made us appreciate the sweetness and sense of humor they had when they were with us and the fun things we laughed about together. It was a wonderful experience and something we'd happily do again."

Host families are important ambassadors, notes Charity Stahl, coordinator of the host families for the UNO Afghan Teacher Education Project. "It takes a lot of patience and flexibility, as well as a special kind of compassion and a world view that's bigger than just ours in America. And it takes people who are interested in learning about other cultures. That makes a big impression on the teachers."

The program continued this spring, as UNO hosted another group of Afghan teachers. Another group will follow in the fall.

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