Rolling Out the Welcome Mat to International Visitors

Green welcome mat in front of a door reads "Welcome"
Edited photo courtesy of Dru Bloomfield, Flickr Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/9yZoEB
By sharing her home with guests from around the world, Regenia Huffman opens herself up to unique cultural experiences. Regenia is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair.

I first got involved as a homestay host in my city of Akron, Ohio when a fellow member of the National Association of the Physically Handicapped (NAPH) contacted my housemate and asked if we would be interested in hosting someone through Global Ties Akron.

In the past, I have hosted international guests for dinner. Although those occasions were only a couple of hours, our time together was very worthwhile. It was very interesting to talk to doctors from Vietnam and a delegation from Kyrgyzstan, who told us about the services for people with disabilities in their countries.

Later, I graduated from sharing a meal with a visitor for a few hours to sharing my home with someone for a few days. Hosting Ksenija, the exchange delegate from Serbia, was worth it, and I would do it again! I wasn’t the only one new to this experience; Ksenija said it was her first time staying with a family in the United States.

I think that participating in exchange, either as a host or as a visitor, offers everyone a chance to see the abilities and needs of all participants.

I enjoyed introducing Ksenija to some of the local attractions, taking her shopping at an outlet mall, and attending the International Festival at the Akron Civic Theater with her. We relied on each other to make it happen. For example, she helped me fill my van with gas, and I helped get her where she wanted to go.

Besides enjoying each other’s company, we also had a lot to learn from each other. Ksenija shared information about her work, accessibility issues, and general information about what services are available for people with disabilities in Serbia. In turn, I was able to describe the Americans with Disabilities Act to her.

To listen to the differences in cultures, lifestyles and social services with someone from another country is so interesting. I’d like to see more people with disabilities visiting other countries, too.

Author: 

Regenia Huffman