Excerpt from: About Our Institution: Federation EIL – Collective Histories, edited by Alvino Fantini.
“A Search for Fundamental Principles,” Phyllis Watt Ingersoll
My Dad, Donald B. Watt, founded The Experiment in International Living. I recall so well his attempts to establish the cross-cultural experience based on a set of fundamental principles as he tried each summer to enhance the learning of the participants. After a busy day of travel, making group arrangements, and attending to other details, my Dad often took time out to relax in the living room, beside the fire, and think late into the night. He often read, occasionally made notes, and always grappled with a central question: How to structure an individual’s participation in another culture in order to further his intercultural understanding?
From the beginning of his questing in Syracuse, New York, he seems to have had a vision of what he wanted to achieve, but soon discovered that finding an answer wasn’t easy. The first attempt in 1932 to invent a program to carry out his ideals was a camp involving boys of several nationalities.
In the opinion of the three national group leaders, the summer camp of French, German, and American boys failed to produce the intercultural friendships they had hoped for. But what approach could be used to introduce an individual to another culture while also producing a really positive experience? The German group leader, Herr Fendrich, then offered Dad a solution: “Bring a group of Americans to Freiburg and I will find families for them to live with. They will be well cared for and, speaking German, they will make friends!”
Dad took him up on this offer the next summer. Homestays made all the difference. After a six-week stay, the American guests felt like a part of the family, surprising themselves with how much they learned.
The homestay with a local family became the centerpiece of my Dad’s approach and of a whole new organization — The Experiment in International Living.
Next week’s Collective History highlight: Up Close & Personal, Part II.
(This post is the second in a series which highlights our most recent publication: About Our Institution: Federation EIL – Collective Histories. This collection was edited by Alvino Fantini, SIT professor emeritus and educational consultant to Federation EIL, with technical assistance from Mokhtar Bouba, instructional technologist, and editorial assistance from Fred Breunig, assistant director of Communications.)