You Don't Have to Live Alone
by Barbara Quick
For two years, to help ends meet, I rented out rooms in my home to young boarders who hailed from all over the world.
At one point, we had a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Moslem, a Jew, and a Protestant all living under one roof, transforming my home into a mini-League of Nations.
Having a slew of young strangers living in such close proximity expands your personal horizons. With each new relationship, you learn more about the world, as well as more about what you need from other people to feel good about yourself.
In our adult lives, we don't usually live with strangers. The nuclear family allows us to tuck away questions of identity as a given: We are mother, wife, father and husband in an ongoing present moment. This conspires to keep us who we are, treading the same path in an ever-deepening groove.
Taking in student boarders presents an opportunity for Americans to be exposed to different cultural traditions, to erase stereotypes and ultimately create more tolerance in the world, says Cesar Cruz from UC Berkeley Extension's English Language Program. Boarders may also open intergenerational windows that would remain closed otherwise.
Berkeley resident Frances Emley agrees. She has opened her home to four to six student boarders for the past 15 years. She hasn't gone on vacation since 1984 and says she doesn't need to. "The main reason why I do this," says Emley, "is that these students bring the world to me."
"Students can be really positive role models for the host families' younger children," adds Cruz, "providing a fresh voice and new ways of looking at things."
During my stint as a boardinghouse lady, my then-5-year-old son, who is an only child, benefited from the changing international cast of big brothers and sisters. When the young men played soccer with him they even used an inflatable globe.
My boarders helped teach me about different parts of the world and an entire segment of the population I probably would never have gotten to know otherwise.
When one of the American students at my table would say, "Barbara, you're the bomb!" I understood this as the very highest tribute to my efforts in the kitchen.
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