Plus Amanda and her team plan a variety of social events throughout the year, and are there for you if you need anything. In the past there have been events like tailgating at football games, cookouts, hayrides, bonfires, family fun nights, but she’s also there for any questions, concerns, coaching, even counseling arrangements, if needed.
There is no such thing as a perfect home or family for hosting, so you don’t have to worry about being perfect. “Different students have different personalities and backgrounds, so any home—from empty nesters to a home busting with school aged children and pets—could provide the right environment for the right student!” Amanda explained. “My favorite are the stories I hear about international students who continue to visit their host families years after graduating Holland Christian. There are host families who have built such special relationships that they’ve made the trip to home countries to meet families and experience cultures first hand.”
Sandy Kuipers and her husband are one of those host families, having hosted students for 15 years, starting with the Holland Rotary Club before HC even had international students. She’s been to Brazil, Japan, and Korea to visit past international students, hosted their full families when they came for graduation. “I get excited because I’ve had some of the best experiences with some of these kids that you could hope for,” she said, while relating the story of their first exchange student from Brazil, Dolly, whose med school graduation Sandy recently attended in Brazil. “I didn’t understand a stinking word!” But during the graduation when all the graduates were told to go thank their parents during the ceremony, Dolly went all the way to the back of the room to give her a hug and thank her.
Don’t expect everything to be perfect. “The reality is, you’re dealing with teenagers,” said Courtney Lampen, HCS Director of Admissions and Marketing, who also works with admissions for international students. “And it takes a special kind of student at 14 or 15 to be prepared to live with a host family, do 7-8 hours of school in another language. But we have supports in place for the kids and for the host family including how to parent someone from another culture where English is not their first language.” “It takes a lot of patience,” added Leanne, “but it’s been really fun.”
Know that language can be both a bit of a barrier, but also a joy-creator, as Rachel explained: “Jimmy has a great sense of humor, and we’ve had a lot of funny things with language,” she said. “I talk fast, and I speak too quickly…I had to learn to slow down.”
You can include your extended family, too—though the international kids may be a bit overwhelmed at first, they typically enjoy extended family gatherings Rachel said. Her sister, who lives with Rachel and her husband enjoyed having Jimmy with them, and “My sons got a kick out of Jimmy too—they teased me about how I treated him better than them. But they know they were spoiled, too—good spoiled!” Rachel said. “The biggest thing they need is to feel like they’re at home. You have to treat them like your own kids—they can’t feel like a guest,” said Sandy, who often invites her children and grandchildren over to mingle with her international students
Some international students go away on vacation with their host families, and some of them go to visit other friends elsewhere, or even plan their own vacations with friends. So you don’t have to stress about it either way. “We considered Ryan part of our family, so we never thought twice about traveling with him,” said Leanne. “What we really wanted was to give him some experiences outside of Holland, so heading to Florida for spring break was a great time for us and him. We also took a couple of trips to Cincinnati. He’s from a bigger city in China, so he loved it there.”
Our hope is that you will find yourself unexpectedly blessed as an international parent. “I needed it as much as Jimmy needed it,” Rachel said. “It was good doing something good for somebody else—I was too absorbed in my own grief.” After she got to know Jimmy a bit, Rachel said she explained to him that her son had died recently, and that if he saw her crying, not to worry, and they came up with a code word to help ease the situation. Now that she looks back on the school year they had together, and the unexpected way it all started, she reflects, “How could God not have had His hand in all these little events?!”
“I did it because we really loved it—love to travel, love to learn about other countries,” Sandy added. “The goodbyes were always really hard!” Plus our school system is blessed by their presence here, their welcome in your homes: “I think our [HC] students need to see there’s a whole other world out there—it opens a new world for them,” Rachel said.
I did it because we really loved it—love to travel, love to learn about other countries. The goodbyes were always really hard!