Host Program

A host having a student and friends over for dinnerA host having a student and friends over for dinnerSince 1962 the Host Program has provided an opportunity for connection and friendship between Harvard international graduate students who are new to the United States and residents who live in the Boston area.

Residents in turn benefit from exposure to the wealth of cultures that come from around the world to study here at Harvard. We invite prospective students and hosts to visit this site to get a better idea of what the expectations are of the Host Program. There are also school specific programs throughout Harvard for which students may qualify; check directly with your individual school to see if your school has a program.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Who are the students participating in the program?

Priority is given to students who have never lived in the United States before. The overall goal is to match all international students who apply.

How does a student apply?

International Students receive information regarding the Host Program in their admissions packet. The information gives students details as to how to apply online to the program. If you did not receive this information and would like to apply, you can access the application here.

How long does it take to be matched?

Most applications are received by the end of May. Hosts are contacted to choose students. This may take time depending on when applications are received, the host's interests and their vacation schedules. The time that we spend communicating with the hosts will increase the chance for a successful match.

Are hosts paid?

No, their participation in this program is purely voluntary. Their goal is to be helpful in a friendly and supportive way.

What do hosts do?

Hosts help students in many different ways. Some may assist with both the overwhelming and exciting process of settling in and becoming acclimated to new surroundings. While hosts do not provide housing, they may offer occasional meals, interesting outings, stimulating conversations, encouraging words, or holiday celebrations. To further enrich the exchange, students may invite their hosts to university events, to go out for walks, to prepare a dish from their country, etc. In addition, the Host Program organizes a few informal events during the year where hosts and students can come together (pending for 2021-22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

What activities do hosts do with students?

A host and student kayaking togetherA host and student kayaking togetherThe interesting thing about having an international visitor is that it makes one look at one's community from a different perspective. Through conversations hosts can find out about their students' interests. There is more to the students than what appeared in their applications. Hosts may discover some interesting and surprising activities that the students enjoy doing back home and would like to continue here in the United States. This information generates related activities to suggest to students. Sometimes hosts discover things that they weren't aware of right in their own backyards.

Who are the hosts?

Hosts are Boston area residents who reflect America's diverse society. They live in local communities and come from many ethnic, socio-economic and religious backgrounds. They vary in age and may be single, couples, or families with children.

What makes a match successful?

Each student-host pairing is unique. It is the students and their hosts who create the building blocks for a mutually rewarding friendship. Such friendship can enormously enrich life outside the classroom. They may, in fact, last years beyond the student's study time at Harvard!

How much time is required of hosts?

Of the time spent during the whole year, most of it will be spent at the beginning of the student's stay. As the year progresses the gaps between communications tend to increase. It is critical to pay attention to the needs of students in the beginning because it is when the foundation is being established for the relationship.

Can a host have more than one student?

Yes! We usually have a supply and demand issue. Some hosts have found that hosting two students is actually easier. If they are from different countries, lively conversations can occur when comparing experiences.

What are the financial expectations of hosting?

Although Americans tend to be uncomfortable talking about money, hosts should communicate with their students regarding payment expectations for any activities or outings (e.g. museum visits, concert tickets, etc.). Assumptions can lead to feelings of hurt and embarrassment for both parties.

Since the hosting obligation is for one year, how do hosts handle students who are here for a longer period?

Students are aware that the program is for one year. If a fast friendship develops, that is great. The coordinator of the Host Program, however, will be hoping that hosts are still available to host a new student for the coming academic year. Experience has shown that during the second year the meetings are much fewer, no matter how strong the friendship . Sometimes the hosts will bring their former student along to help from time to time with a new student.

Are there events where the program gathers as a whole?

The Host Program organizes a few informal activities during the year where hosts and students can come together as a group (pending for 2021-22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). There will be some cultural outings that will be free; others that may require a fee. Hosts will inform their students when and where these events take place. Students are welcome to attend these events without their hosts and vice versa.

Apply to Become a Host

Be part of a group of special people who help make Harvard a friendlier place for newly arrived international graduate students. By joining the Host Program for International Students, you join the hundreds of volunteers who, over the past many years, have enriched the lives of thousands of students beyond the ivy walls, and at the same time, found their own lives enriched. A relatively small effort can bring big rewards. Your kindness reflects Harvard, the Boston community, and in fact the United States as a whole. Hosting is a way in which one person can make a difference!

Apply to Host Program Online

Or Contact:
Host Program for International Students
Harvard International Office
864 Smith Campus Center
1350 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
Tel. (617) 495-2789 Fax (617) 495-4088
 

Guidelines for Hosts

Update related to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have an impact on the Host Program for International Students in the academic year 2021-22. We recognize that our international students and hosts will need to determine what they will feel comfortable doing in this time of rapidly changing circumstances. We have updated these guidelines to incorporate guidance from University officials. We encourage you to review the COVID-19 information on Harvard’s website: Keep Harvard Healthy - COVID-19 Information.

Expectations of Hosts

Our experience shows that the immediate post-arrival time is when students need and enjoy their host’s attention the most. The knowledge, support and kindness that you can offer as a host is uniquely appreciated by students during their initial integration period. Once classes begin, students become more immersed in their studies and need less support. However, hosts are expected to stay in touch with students during the year. The amount of time spent together is up to the hosts and students.

Students also relish the opportunity for a window into life in the United States. Events do not have to be elaborate or costly. The following are several activities to consider, keeping in mind that students and hosts will need to determine what they feel comfortable doing given the current circumstances related to the pandemic.

  • Eating dinner or drinking coffee
  • Going to the supermarket
  • Friday night pizza
  • Watching a sports event
  • Celebrating a birthday or holiday
  • Exploring different neighborhoods, towns, etc.

A host’s most important contribution is to express care, whether it is spending time together or getting in touch just to say "hi."

Once Hosts Have Been Matched with Students

An immediate welcoming email message gives new students a real sense of security. Hosts may want to include information about their family, interests, their neighborhood, and where they live in relation to the University. A photo might be nice. The email does not need to be a long message. Making the immediate connection is most important. If for any reason hosts have difficulty contacting their students, please email Renee Burke.

Upon a Student's Arrival

Hosts should contact students to arrange a first meeting following their arrival to Boston/Cambridge. Hosts are not expected to meet students at the airport but are encouraged to arrange a first meeting soon after their arrival. Students are informed not to expect housing of any kind from their hosts. The students' schools will have sent them housing information.  You will find more details on this below.

Immigration Requirements for Students

International students have special obligations to the U.S. Government, and it is the role of the HIO to help students meet them. Hosts should be aware that students must register with the HIO as soon as possible after arriving at Harvard. Students can register by sending a form via email to the HIO. Students cannot register for classes prior to registering with the HIO. If students have any questions regarding visas, employment, travel outside the United States, or financial matters, please direct them to the HIO.

Orientation Meetings

Each school within Harvard provides orientations. The HIO offers optional "Getting Started" orientations to students as well.

Starting the Academic Year

The beginning of an academic year is a critical time for students. It is important for hosts to be supportive, enthusiastic and understanding. Remember that international students are making many adjustments simultaneously - new living quarters, unfamiliar food, and new academic systems. What seems instinctive or obvious to locals may not appear so to the students.

Financial Guidelines

The HIO does not expect hosting to be a costly undertaking for hosts. However, communication is important to clarify expectations. If hosts would like their students to pay for something, for example, concert tickets, museum tickets, etc., they should explain their expectations of payment in advance. Hosts should not extend loans. Please let the program coordinator know immediately if a student informs you of a financial emergency.

Housing

Many students arrive knowing they have University accommodations. Students usually proceed from the airport directly to their dormitories or apartments. As stated previously, we do not expect hosts to pick up their students from the airport.

Harvard-affiliated housing will provide instructions to the students as to when and how to get the keys to their rooms. Students receive information about what is included in University housing. Most dormitory rooms include basic furniture, but no linens. Students are informed that Harvard-owned apartments are unfurnished except for kitchen appliances. 

Hosts may wish to suggest that spending the first few nights in temporary accommodations, such as Airbnb, Sabbatical Homes, or a hotel in the area may be a better solution to assure rest.

Furnishings

Furnishing a temporary home can seem overwhelming if one doesn't know where to go, or what to do. The HIO has informational flyers about shopping and also MIT has opened its MIT Furniture Exchange to Harvard and other local universities. Share information with students about yard sales, second-hand stores, Craigslist or local Facebook groups where people are selling furniture and household items. There are stores such as Cort Putnam Furniture in Central Square that offers rental furniture and sells used furniture, and IKEA that sells new furniture at reasonable prices. An offer by the hosts to accompany students on a shopping excursion is very helpful. For example, pointing out the Arsenal Mall area in Watertown or Fresh Pond, Cambridgeside Galleria Malls is useful since they can be reached by bus and offer more shopping variety than Harvard Square.

During the Academic Year

Once classes begin, academics become foremost in a student's mind. However, hosts should stay in touch with their students during the year. It is a good idea to check in after a couple of months and find out what is the best way to reach students (text to U.S. phone number, WhatsApp, email, etc.). It is up to the host to initiate contacts and extend invitations. Occasional texts, calls, and/or emails provide tremendous encouragement and support for students. Should an invitation be turned down, it probably is due to students’ need to meet new academic challenges. Don't let refusals dissuade from extending future invitations. Hopefully, students will soon feel comfortable enough to propose ideas for getting together.

Group Activities

Due to Harvard University’s COVID-19 protocols we do not know what type of group activities the Host Program will be able to offer in 2021-22. We will inform hosts if we are able to organize a group activity for students and hosts. Please keep in mind that for all activities organized by the Host Program the coordinator only notifies the hosts. The hosts in turn notify their respective students.

  • Hosts will receive an invitation via email from the Host Program.
  • Hosts will contact their students to extend the invitation.
  • Students will only know about events from their hosts.
  • Hosts or students can attend without the other.

Fall

Apple pickingApple pickingAutumn in New England is a special time of year that hosts can share with students. Consider an afternoon of apple picking or cider pressing; a trip outside the city or the Arnold Arboretum for spectacular foliage; a picnic; Halloween trick or treating or a costume party. It's a wonderful time to create and strengthen bonds of friendship.

The Holiday Season

Celebrating Thanksgiving dinnerCelebrating Thanksgiving dinnerHoliday season often presents a dilemma -- flexibility is the key! Some hosts love sharing their Thanksgiving, December, or New Year's traditions with students. Others find themselves wondering how to include non-family guests. For the students, this may be a time to travel or to catch up on academic work. Most international students, however, are curious about American holiday customs. Everyone has their own traditions, but giving thanks and sharing gifts seem to be universal. What better way to celebrate than providing students with a window into your own holiday world!

Outings to Consider

A host and students visiting Fisherman's Feast in Boston's North EndA host and students visiting Fisherman's Feast in Boston's North EndHosts should decide what their schedule permits. Encourage students to voice their desires, likes and dislikes, too, keeping in mind what feels comfortable given the current circumstances related to the pandemic. Hosts should be upfront about how much tickets cost if they would like students to pay.

Some favorites:

Personal Celebrations

Going to a potluckGoing to a potluckStudents will feel honored to be included in a host's celebrations of life's milestones, a birth, a birthday, a wedding, a retirement, or similar event. Allowing students to share a part of the host's life is a great gift. Students have told us they enjoy participating in family events. Don't be surprised at having a new outlook on something previously taken for granted!

Commencement

Graduation celebrationGraduation celebrationStudents may want to share it with their hosts. Graduation gives the hosts the opportunity to celebrate their student's academic achievement.

If the student's family is here for the occasion, hosts might offer to help with housing arrangements for the family. The students will probably want their families to meet their host(s)—their American family. Departures are bittersweet times, but it does not have to be an end. Rather, you have begun an international friendship, one that can be continued through virtual contact and future reunions here and abroad.

About Commencement Day

  • Graduate Students are usually given only two tickets to the morning exercises in the Harvard Yard, Tercentenary Theatre (between Widener Library and Memorial Chapel). It is difficult to find additional tickets for this event and it is very crowded. Television monitors are set up so people can see the activities on the stage.
  • Students return to their respective schools to receive their diplomas in another ceremony and have lunch. No tickets are needed to observe this but tickets are needed to have the prepaid lunch.

 

Ours was not an ordinary relationship. It was more than expected and I hope it will go beyond my stay at Harvard!

Student from South Africa