Formal language learning in the classroom is further reinforced through homestays with Russian-speaking host families. For the entire duration of the program, participants live with local families that use Russian as a primary language of communication. All hosts provide private rooms and telephone access for their American guests, as well as two meals per day during the week, and three meals per day on the weekends. The American Councils host family program is a popular feature of the exchange experience, as it complements the academic portion of the program by contributing to language acquisition and a deeper understanding of Russian and Kazakhstani culture. All families are chosen through a careful selection process and monitored throughout the program by the local Homestay Coordinator. Placements are made with consideration for student preferences and special requirements. In addition, best efforts are made to match students with families who share their interests. Each location is checked for security, relative proximity to the university and transportation routes, fire safety, and overall living conditions.
ROF host families provide students with the opportunity to engage in intellectual conversation in Russian in an informal setting. Many of the families include their guests in activities outside of the home, where students can further bond with their hosts and apply their Russian in a variety of social contexts, such as the following situations described by students:
“Sitting at dinner at a restaurant with [my] family, I uttered a rather simple phrase, but a well-timed one that resulted in laughter around the whole table. It was a great feeling! (Especially in light of the fact that it was a phrase using the negative future, which is a trouble spot for me!)”
“I attended a birthday party with a family friend. My host brother and his parents were there as well as a number of other guests who I had been introduced to within my first week. At the birthday party, I was able to joke around with everyone in the room and had very few moments where the conversation went in a direction that I couldn't understand. I felt like I could really handle myself in Russian and that felt great.”