Each year Centre College welcomes dozens of international students from all over the world, many of whom have never previously been to the United States. As part of the College’s attempts to help students adjust and to embrace what they have to offer the campus, the newcomers are paired with local host families. Pete and Heather Marra of Danville and their three children (Peter, 9, Mateja, 8, and Max, 7) have hosted multiple international students over the past four years. The relationships they formed have not only smoothed student transitions to a new country but also expanded the Marra family’s horizons. In June of this year the Marras traveled to China to visit some of the students in their home cities, and they are now preparing to move to China for the 2016-17 academic year to work at an English-language school for Chinese children, where Heather will teach first grade and Pete will act as IT director.
Q: What prompted you to volunteer as hosts for international students at Centre?
A: We began hosting four years ago, around the time we adopted our daughter from China. Qingpu He (’16) and Yitong (’15) were our first host daughters. There were very few host families at that time and many students who needed families. We were able to help them as new students, and they enriched our daughter’s life as she transitioned to America. They also assisted in translating and communicating with our daughter in Chinese. The friendships grew, and they became family, and our kids miss their “Chinese sisters” when the students go home for the summers.
Q: How many students have you hosted, and what are their home countries?
We have hosted over 20 students over the last four years. We usually officially host two new students each year, but as the year progresses, we “adopt” more students who have not been matched with a family, or who didn’t realize how special it is to have a host family. So our host family multiplies each year.
Most of the students we’ve hosted have been from China, as they make up the majority of the international students at Centre. However, we have had students in our home from Vietnam, Ghana, Japan and even from other states in the U.S.
Q: You had the opportunity to visit China and meet family members of some of the students you have hosted. How was that experience?
A: We went to China in June and were able to see nine of our host students, tour their home cities and meet their moms, dads, aunts, uncles and grandmothers. It was incredible to deepen these relationships further. We stepped into our students’ lives in China just like they had stepped into our lives in America.
The love we received was so special. We got hugs from the moms and such gratitude for hosting their daughter or son. It gave the parents a peace knowing that their child was not alone in the U.S.
Q: What are some of the things you do with the students you host?
A: We are there for questions and to explain our culture, provide a place to leave campus and step into a home for a meal. We try to assist in small ways that make the students’ lives a little easier, like taking them to Walmart and taking them to Lexington to shop for a winter jacket, or go to the Asian market so they can cook a meal that is familiar to them.
For the students, just knowing that someone nearby cares about them when their family is across the ocean is very important. Centre students are very busy, so sometimes being there just means a text or a phone call to say, “I’m thinking of you during exam week! Let me know if you need to go to the grocery store!”
If my child traveled to another country to attend college, it would be comforting to know that a local family was hosting them and helping them transition to a completely new school, life and city.
Q: What would you like to say as you take a hiatus from hosting and prepare to move to China for the year?
A: We will miss our students at Centre while we are in China for the upcoming school year, but we are able to keep in touch through technology. In the summer and even after students graduate, we enjoy interacting with them via Facebook and WeChat.
We highly recommend being a host family. It exposes you to a world outside of Kentucky and the United States without ever leaving the comforts of home. Hosting students creates friendships that will continue for a lifetime, long beyond their years at Centre.
Centre College currently has more 100 international and exchange students representing a dozen countries. For more information about international student services and hosting, contact Stephen Swan, Centre’s international student advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 26, 2016