Studying abroad is often a truly enriching experience for students as they are immersed into a culture different than their own. There are countless factors that influence what foreign exchange students learn about this new culture, and by what means. One of these is food, which carries with it deep cultural meaning, as it is both symbolic of, and part of, culture itself. As such, the foods students are served, especially within the context of a homestay, shape their understandings of what it means to be of a particular culture. Because of this, host parents find themselves in a position wherein they have the power to affect this understanding in their exchange students. However, this becomes complicated when living in a nation like the U.S., where there is no single homogenous ethnic or cultural group. This thesis explores a lesser-researched component of the study abroad experience—the host family—and studies the various features of student enculturation over which hosts have influence. Specifically, this research addresses host parents’ understandings of two things: food’s significance within culture, and their own role as cultural educator to their students (be it conscious or unconscious)—especially through the role food plays on exchange students’ cultural acquisition. In order to better understand these dynamics, I draw from theories of gender performativity and standpoint feminism to consider the role gender (and by extension, gender roles) plays within hosts’ perceptions of food choices, meal preparation, and efforts to create “comfort” for exchange students who are often away from home for the first time. Through interviewing seven host parents of a Midwestern chapter of the Rotary Club Youth Exchange Program, my findings suggest that while there is an underlying understanding among hosts that food is culturally significant and that they play a role in educating their students about U.S. culture, the more dominant theme is that hosts view themselves in a parental role, and that more emphasis is placed on meals as a time for familial bonding than exploring the culturally symbolic nature foods themselves can hold.


Craven, Christa

Second Advisor

Proctor, Brittnay


Sociology and Anthropology; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


American Material Culture | Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Women's Studies

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2019 Isabel Hannah Bonhomme