Families who welcome students from other countries into their homes are amazing people, says EIT Hawke’s Bay’s new international officer Kirsten Murray.
Kirsten’s appreciation of just how life-changing the homestay experience can be comes firsthand. After her final year at school, she lived with five host families while studying Japanese in Saitama, a city 90 minutes by train from Tokyo.
The Tamatea High School student formed close bonds with her hosts – her mother and sister were invited to stay with one family when they visited Japan and Kirsten has returned for the weddings of children she first met as a 17-year-old.
Her homestay families did such a good job in helping her settle in that, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Massey University, she worked for nine years at universities in Japan, helping support overseas students there.
After travelling extensively through India, Nepal and South America, Kirsten is pleased to be living back in Napier. It’s a very different city to the one she left as a schoolgirl, she says, offering a sophisticated coffee culture and a wide range of bars, restaurants and wineries.
In her new job, she will be providing more support for homestay families and students.
“We are wanting more families and are looking to see whether existing families and students are getting the support and help they need.”
EIT presently has students from 10 different nations seeking host families in Taradale and Greenmeadows. Having travelled from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Korea, China, India, Malaysia and Thailand, they are enrolled in programmes that range from nine-week English language courses to full degrees.
The International Centre is looking for families to provide short-term or longer term accommodation for students enrolled in a variety of programmes.
Kirsten says a family has to be in it for more than the financial payment.
“The students shouldn’t be seen as boarders. They need a little more support than that to feel comfortable and settled in their new country of study. Host families need to invest time and energy to achieve that, particularly in communicating with English language students.”
Opening up their homes gives host families an opportunity to see their own country reflected through the eyes of people whose experience is of a very difficult culture and way of life.
EIT’s International Centre makes a great effort to achieve a good match between students and their host families – and doing that requires everyone to honestly express their expectations. If difficulties do emerge, Kirsten urges the parties to make contact promptly with EIT before they escalate into bigger problems.
Often, she says, it’s simply a misunderstanding or a miscommunication. But if an issue can’t be resolved, neither party is obliged to continue in an unhappy situation – although, of course, protocols have to be observed to end a homestay arrangement.
If you are interested in hosting an international student, phone Kirsten on 974 8000 ext 5013 for further information.