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Dear Friends,

First, the Birth of CHI…

If you had made a dinner reservation at Victoria Station in Larkspur, California, on October 31, 1980, you would be forgiven for not noticing a group of 4 unusual customers in the back dining room by the wall.


A young lady in a silk yukata with flowers in her hair had a worried smile. She knew she and her husband were embarking on an epic adventure with no guarantee of success, – but she threw care to the wind. This was Lilka. The kindly lady behind her was “Pete” Bull, “CHI’s Mother,” who encouraged them and believed in the project. Across from her was an impoverished, but highly educated recent graduate from Waseda University, Kazu Toda, the future manager of CHI Japan. Next to him, in a “happi” coat, sat I, excited. After all, the next day was the first day of California Homestay Institute (CHI) – our program for Japanese high school groups to come to the U.S., stay with Host Families and learn spoken English. We had earlier experienced the joy of hosting a Japanese girl and were impressed by the effect on us and our children, learning about her culture. If our family could fall in love with Chiharu in only two weeks, think what such an exchange could do for the world!  We wished we could contribute, even in a small way, to a more peaceful globe. So here we were, ready to take off. Earlier that day we had both resigned our permanent jobs. Although both of us had by then some experience in exchange programs, I had never been to Japan. But I had already purchased my airline tickets and carried a stack of CHI information sheets. Kazu and I were hoping to convince Tokyo high schools to come to our shores. I stayed in Japan for 2 months, while Lilka remained behind with our two daughters, and prepared materials to train our first group of Teacher/Coordinators. There was an economic recession in 1980 and we took a loan against our house to start the organization. We knew we could lose our home if we failed, but we were young and would recover. Both our parents thought we were insane. And yet, by the Spring of 1981, through our connection with ISA Japan and its forward-looking President, Mr. Kurahashi, we received our first 200 high school students – 100 in L.A., the other 100 in Petaluma and Santa Rosa. We knew we were on our way – there was no way to stop us…

Second, CHI’s 40th Birthday…

Forty years have passed today since that distant day at the Hilltop Café.  At our first CHI Conference in September of 1981 in San Diego, we clarified the four goals to guide our organization: One, to form a program that would effectively contribute to friendship among the young people of different cultures. Two, to show off the best of our country to “our” students, the future leaders of their respective nations: our experiment in democracy, the ideals of volunteering, but, primarily, the generosity of Host Families, who shared, free-of-charge, their hearts and homes with complete strangers. The third goal was to educate our own citizens about other countries, cultures, and customs, and the fourth goal for all CHI participants was to experience the commonality of the human experience that unifies all of us. We hope that today, 40 years later, we can say we have lived up to these lofty goals. Despite the political or economic headwinds the future may bring, we intend to continue guiding Cultural Homestay International on the same course into the future.


The world-wide impact of Cultural Homestay International would be impossible without all of you, contributing your hearts and hard work to support CHI’s goals (and there is more than two million of you). We are deeply thankful to all our supporters and advocates at home and abroad: our Host Families, Host Brothers and Sisters, all CHI field, administrative and executive staff – past and present, all the teachers, volunteers, High School administrators, overseas Partners and foreign School officials, Department of State officers, Host Businesses, members of the CHI Board of Directors, and, finally, all the courageous young people, students from 103 countries, the U.S. and Canada. They gave us a gift of their trust as they courageously crossed the oceans to take part in Cultural Homestay International programs. You are all guarantors of a brighter future for our world. 

In gratitude and admiration,

Tom and Lilka.

P.S.: click here to watch a loving video sent to us by our partner Smaller Earth.

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