Marblehead Reporter

Informal Facebook exchange connects North Shore residents, international students

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Courtesy photo

Hugh Stewart and Sharon Smith celebrate with international student friends at Christmas.

By Staff reports

Posted Sep 05, 2011 @ 02:41 PM Marblehead —

Now there’s a way for North Shore residents to befriend international college and university students. North Shore WISH — a Facebook group — provides a way for local residents and international students to meet, develop friendships and share their cultures with each other.

International students come to the United States, study hard and see tourist sites like New York City, Disney World, and Niagara Falls, but too often they never get a taste of American home life, according to North Shore WISH founders Hugh Stewart and Sharon Smith. North Shore WISH (Welcome International Students to our Homes) provides an opportunity for students to meet area residents and for residents to invite students join them for various events, which might include a Saturday cookout or dinner, a weekend getaway from campus, an evening of games and conversation, or even a home stay during winter break.

Stewart and Smith have launched North Shore WISH as the outgrowth of a chance meeting they had with several Salem State University students from Japan three years ago. The two hope that other residents will want to share their family and friends with students from local colleges and universities.

The benefits to both go two ways, according to Steward and Smith: International students will get a more intimate and personal perspective on the American way of life, while residents — and their children and friends — will learn about the culture and lifestyles of people around the globe.

“WISH is strictly a grassroots volunteer operation,” Stewart said. “Our own experiences with students from throughout the world have enriched us immeasurably, and we hope to encourage others to reach out and create their own experiences.”

Stewart and Smith have arranged clam digs hosted by Marblehead’s Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo and her mother, and have taken students to Lunar New Year celebrations, tours of the Peabody Essex Museum and the Friendship in Salem harbor, and whale watches. They’ve also enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas and informal dinners with their student guests, provided home stays and arranged home stays with friends, and much more. Last year, Stewart and Smith visited Asia, where they were greeted and entertained by 10 of the many students they have befriended over the past few years.

There are lots of students who would love to experience your friendship, according to Stewart and Smith. Even if you have little room, you will find a few evenings of dinner or other fun events a pleasure, they said. Children especially love to meet international students and are not shy about asking questions; they can learn much from the experience that will enhance their learning about other cultures in school, Stewart and Smith added. If you have room, a weekend home stay is always welcome, and winter and spring breaks bring even greater opportunities, Stewart and Smith noted.

To begin, join Facebook, if you haven’t already, and search for “North Shore WISH.” Complete a short online questionnaire to join, without obligation, and then begin finding friends among the many students at local colleges and universities.

“A few weekends can lead to lifetime friendships across national boundaries,” Stewart and Smith said.