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Lester B.Pearson

Early supporter of Pearson College, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Nobel Peace Laureate

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Late Honorary President of UWC, Former President of South Africa

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Member of UWC National Committee of China, board member of UWC Changshu China

The sense of idealism and a purposeful life really makes the UWC experience unique and its impact life-long.

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Co-Founder, Vice Chairman of Board and Executive Director of Harvard Centre Shanghai. Pearson 89-91

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Chair of UWC International Board and International Council 

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Kurt Hahn

German Educator, Founder of United World Colleges

My Cross-Cultural Host Family Experience in Guangzhou

Issue date:2024-01-16


I am Mohammed Hussein, originally from Kurdistan, Iraq. My journey has been shaped by the humble beginnings of a small town in my nation, where limited access to personal development resources didn't deter my progress. The imperfections of the local school system were no obstacle to my determination.

In 2021, I seized the opportunity to participate in the U.S. government-sponsored IYLEP exchange program, a transformative experience that introduced me to the United World College in Changshu, China. This encounter proved to be a pivotal moment, altering the course of my life and opening doors to new possibilities and perspectives.


Photos of Guangzhou taken by me

I started my UWC journey in August 2023 when I became a student at UWC Changshu China. During the Christmas and New Year Holiday, I took part in the host family program of UWC Changshu China. It was truly an interesting and memorable experience during my UWC journey.

My host family is in Guangzhou, which is very far from Changshu. The culture and people there are quite different. Initially, I was unsure whether to go that far or just visit Suzhou or Shanghai. I was afraid that I wouldn't like it there, but after spending my entire holiday in Guangzhou, I can now say it might be the best decision I have made in my life.

Everyone in the family was incredibly kind to me in many different ways. At first, they showed a genuine appreciation for my culture, country, as well as respected some of my differing opinions. I was given ample freedom to pursue my own interests.


With my host family

When I arrived there, they had done a little search about my country. They asked me about Iraq and I realized there was some misunderstanding because in fact I hold Iraqi passport but I’m from Kurdistan which is a region in Iraq. Kurdistan is different in language, culture, and other aspects from the rest of Iraq. I had to explain it to them and they were impressed. I was more curious to explore and also exchange between my culture and Chinese culture.

What I experienced and learned about Chinese culture throughout this holiday is unbelievable. I got to taste food I had never thought of even trying such as pigeon, goose, frog and chicken soup with fruits such as fig. I got to try most of the Cantonese cuisines which are very well known around the world. 

I also got to know more about ancient Chinese culture especially in Cantonese areas because my host always wanted to show me around and whenever we were eating together they explained to me the history behind those places.


They constantly made efforts to immerse me in Chinese culture and showcase the local way of life in Guangzhou, adding an extra layer of excitement and intrigue to this journey. It was particularly captivating because it aligned perfectly with one of the core values of UWC - promoting diversity and fostering intercultural understanding. 

When it comes to these values, if you want to delve into the depths of diversity and intercultural understanding, along with the other UWC values, it is essential to engage directly and embrace new experiences. In my opinion, the most effective way to immerse oneself in a new culture is by living with the local people. This allows for a genuine understanding and appreciation of a different country or culture.

In addition to everything else, I discovered many similarities between my culture and Chinese culture, particularly when it comes to lifestyle. During my time with my host family, I couldn't help but notice the strong bonds they had with their relatives. They would come together to celebrate every occasion, just like we do back in my country. And you know what? Some food in Guangzhou was surprisingly similar to the dishes I grew up with. 


Lion dance performace in Foshan, Guangzhou

Their hospitality was amazing and I developed a very friendly relationship with the family. We had a lot of interaction and interesting conversations when we were all eating together which I enjoyed the most. 

One of the things I found very interesting and meaningful was that my host family (Mom) shared her university experience with me.  She studied at a university very far from her family and she was struggling a lot financially at that time. She told me how she handled the situation and got through all of that which I was relating to since I’m an international student studying far away from my home. 

The family has two boys, but I couldn’t spend that much time with them because they were only coming back home on weekends. They were curious to know me more and the little boy who is in 3rd grade always tried to teach me new games and Chinese. 

What was interesting was that their grandparents were staying in the house while I was there. They didn’t know how to speak English but besides this language barrier, they were always trying to interact with me and even teach me Chinese so that I could understand what they were saying. Most of the time the grandmother was so kind and always asked me to eat more and try different kinds of food.


Traditional Chinese performance in Foshan, Guangzhou

On the last day of my stay, he asked me when I would come back and I was very sad that I had to leave, but we made a promise that they would come to visit me in Changshu and these are some of the reasons that I felt that I’m part of their family. I didn’t have any conflict at all during my stay with the host family.

It's truly remarkable how we formed such a deep bond in such a brief span. So, we struck a deal: whenever they visit my country, I'll be their gracious host, and when they venture to the UK, my brother will extend his hospitality to them.

Furthermore, I acquired a deeper understanding of certain assumptions surrounding Chinese individuals. There is a common misconception that Chinese people are not very open with international people in general. However, this perception is completely opposite to the reality. 

I believe that some people may hold this view due to China's large population and its rich and vast culture, particularly the language. In my experience, as long as you show respect for their culture and country, Chinese people are very open and friendly. This, in my opinion, is true for people in any country.


There is also a common perception that students are highly dedicated to their academic pursuits, and constantly engrossed in their studies. There are two children in my host family, one in grade 7 and one in grade 3. 

Their parents had a burning curiosity about the process of getting their children into UWC and higher education, eagerly seeking answers to their many questions. I couldn't believe it. These kids were only in grades 7 and 3, and yet here they were, discussing things that seemed far too sophisticated for their age.

Their curiosity was piqued by the UWC mission and values. They expressed a genuine desire to delve deeper into the essence of UWC - its purpose, the endeavors of its students, and the unique qualities that set UWC apart. They had a deep longing for the day when their children would have the opportunity to attend one of the UWC colleges.


Regarding UWC, I had a deep discussion with the elder boy. I shared with him the profound realization that UWC encompasses so much more than just the IB curriculum and university admissions. When he asked about my reasons for choosing UWC, I explained that it has granted me the opportunity to immerse myself in a world of diverse experiences that I would have otherwise missed out. 

It dawned on me that it's not only the students themselves who are responsible for their academic success, but also the nurturing environment, supportive families, and rich cultural backgrounds that motivate them to excel. 

As I reflect on my time with my host family, I can't help but feel grateful for the incredible experience I had. It was a journey filled with unforgettable moments, valuable lessons, and the formation of deep connections with truly remarkable individuals. I highly recommend international students in China giving this a try at least once, as it's a truly unique experience that isn't easily accessible. 

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