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Lifelong Bonds of Love & Learning: The Experiment in International Living

As the Administrative Assistant for Federation EIL, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Experiment Directors from around the world at our annual meetings and on their visits to the United States. Each has a unique story of how they came to this work, but almost all share a deep affinity for that first trip abroad, and more poignantly–for their host families.

Grown men and women refer to their “mothers” and “fathers” and “brothers” and “sisters” with deep affection, and often return “home” for special “family” occasions.

There are also those who grew up hosting Experimenters or had parents (or even grandparents) who were Experimenters, and thus refer to themselves as an “Experiment family.” Some of our offices around the world originated in this way and continue to be run by Experimenters.

80 years ago, The Experiment pioneered the homestay concept as one of the vital avenues for understanding the cultural diversity that makes up our world. This approach continues to highlight many our programs to this day.

The impact of the homestay is perhaps best exemplified in the words of an Experimenter himself.  David Murdoch, of the United States, visited Germany fifty years ago as an Experimenter.  These excerpts from his recent tribute to the life of Evi Gilles, his host mother, speaks to a lifelong bond of love and learning, echoed by Experimenters everywhere:

For over fifty years, it has been my great joy to know Evi and her family as if they were my own family…

In daily matters, Evi taught me invaluable personal lessons. Each day we would have coffee and cake (Erdbeeren, Kirschkuchen, Apfelkuchen, usw.) at mid-afternoon and talk about the events of the day, both large and small.  I treasure those times even today and welcome the chance to share with others, both Americans and people from other countries, our differing perspectives on the world.  I learned to be more open-minded, analytical, and less judgmental. Empathy became as consequential to my relationships with others as friendship…

We had good times together that have left poignant memories: at Evi’s 75th birthday we performed a family play about “Die Eiche”; Evi traveled to America, including Connecticut, New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago; she hosted my wife Joan and me in Mannheim and Würzburg in 1990, as we traveled the Romantic Road together; she hosted my daughter Christina and me at Christina’s first opera in Mannheim in 1991; and we frequently visited each other in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century…

I will miss her.

(To read David’s tribute to his German host mother in its entirety, click here.)

 ~International Office, Federation EIL


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