International Neighbors at 50
Win Pierce, an early "hostess," had been the wife of a foreign student herself: though she spoke little French, she'd spent a year in France when her husband, Roy, was a graduate student at Cornell. She could easily identify with the women here in Ann Arbor-far from family, with limited language skills and few friends. Many other volunteers either experienced hospitality when they lived in another country, or wished for some friendly attention in a foreign situation.
Most guests soon move on, but those who stay often become hostesses themselves. Helga Schacht came to Ann Arbor from Germany in 1969. "A few days after our arrival a very friendly Italian woman from International Neighbors, Ernestina Parravano, came to take me shopping," she remembers. "At the A&P supermarket she explained the many varieties of cereals and other prepared foods to me, and I still remember her recommendation of Quaker oatmeal. She took me to a tea group meeting, and life from then on was wonderful-getting to know so many interesting American and foreign women." Not only did Helga become a hostess, she was president of the organization from 2003 to 2005.
Currently there are about 450 guests from sixty-three countries and about 350 hostesses. Though we still call our get-togethers "teas," many guests now prefer coffee. Collecting stamps, once a popular activity, has gone the way of snail mail. But women still sign up for interest groups in hiking, painting, knitting, quilting, and, of course, cooking.