Once a student decides that he or she wants to study at BridgeEnglish in Denver, Colorado, the next and sometimes difficult choice to be made is where to stay. Students have a wide variety of hotels and apartels from which to choose, and for some the privacy and ease of a hotel is the most desirable option. Another possibility, however, is to stay with a host family. Considering this option often raises concerns from both students and their family. What will the family be like? Will the house be nice? How long will I have to travel between school and the home?
Many of our families have hosted with us for years, and many of the newer families have been recommended by more experienced ones. First of all, and most importantly, we look for families who are genuinely interested in other cultures and excited about hosting international students. Most of our families have traveled internationally, and some have even stayed with host families themselves, so they understand the challenges of learning the intricacies of a new culture.
Bridge host families welcome students into their homes as members of the family, and love to help their students settle in to American life. They often enjoy taking their students around to see the sights, both in Denver and in the nearby Rocky Mountains. Students are also invited to take part in family activities, and many of our students cite their stay with their host families as a particularly meaningful and enjoyable part of their time here in Denver. Secondly, we make sure that the student will have a private bedroom and access to either a private or shared bath in the home. A third factor that we consider is that we look for families who live close to the school, so that the students ideally have to take only one bus ride to get to school.
Other questions that a student and his or her family might ask are: What if I don’t like the family? Can I move to another family or do I have to move to a hotel?
As the Housing Coordinator, I meet with every new host family to get to know them and to understand why they want to host, as well as to see their home and where the student will be living. If there are every any issues for either the student or the host family, either party can call me at any time. It is very rare that we have any conflicts between host families and students, but when and if they arise, I will first sit down with the student to discuss the issue and then do my best to resolve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. We want to make sure that both the student and the family have a rewarding and enjoyable experience!
To give you an idea of why our families decide to host and some of the benefits of staying with a host family, I recently sat down with Dianne LaKamp, one of most beloved hosts who has hosted for Bridge on and off for about 15 years. She lives in a cute and comfortable home about 40 minutes from Bridge by bus. As soon as you enter her cozy living room, you feel right at home, and her love of her students immediately becomes clear as you study all the beautiful presents she has received from them over the years. An exquisite Japanese geisha figurine and an intricately carved set of wooden coasters from Chile are among her favorites. In person, Dianne is warm and welcoming with an easy laugh and an appealing twinkle in her eye. We sit down in her living room to chat about being a host family.
Shannon: So why did you decide to become a host family all those years ago?
Dianne: Well, at the time I was living with my 4 year-old daughter in Park Hill and we had an empty bedroom. My neighbor worked with Bridge and told me how they were starting to place students with families instead of in dorms. She asked if I was interested in hosting and that’s how I started. We had many students from Venezuela and Japan, and most of them were just out of high school looking to learn English so that they could go to college. I have been hosting on and off ever since.
Shannon: What’s your favorite thing about hosting?
Dianne: I’m a people person, and I live alone here, so I love having the interaction with the students. My friends call it Dianne’s B & B (Bed & Breakfast.) I love learning about their cultures—I learn so much—and I love international politics, so we have a lot of conversations about that. Also, I love to cook, so it’s a lot of fun to talk over dinner.
She tells me about one recent night where everyone was laughing so hard they could hardly stop and she told the students “My neighbors must think I have a party every night!”
Shannon: What do you like to do with your students on the weekends?
Dianne: Well since most of my friends are off doing activities with their families, I like to take the students up to the mountains. We go to Vail and Aspen, and it’s a lot of fun to show them around. A few weeks ago one of the students just saw snow for the first time!
When I asked Dianne if she remembered any particularly humorous or interesting incidents that had occurred with her students, she told me one that happened a few years ago. Dianne was hosting a Chilean man and a Japanese woman, and, like the majority of her students, they called her “Mom.” The group was out at the grocery store, and when the clerk overheard the students refer to Dianne that way, she gave them quite a look. The Japanese woman quickly explained, “Our mom had a lot of husbands.” Needless to say, the clerk did not know how to respond!
Aside from the humorous stories, Dianne also has some very moving ones. In the students’ apartment downstairs she keeps a little book given to her by a student years ago in which her students each write a little note of thanks to her at the end of their stay. When I asked her about it, she was clearly emotional and treasures the book. I asked her if she still keeps in touch with her former students, and she told me that e-mail has helped to keep them in contact.
The most recent and touching thing that had happened to her was that one of her students had asked her for the email addresses of her past students in Brazil so that he could ask them to chip in for a plane ticket for her to come visit them! Dianne tells me that she loves having such wonderful and interesting people with whom to share her home, and that she plans to continue hosting for many years. We sure hope she will!