Originally published in Compass, April 17, 2014
George Stevens Academy seeks hosts for international students
Doug Hylan, Grace Hylan, Goerge Stevens Academy international student Charcy Ye and Jean Hylan at the Hylan family home in Blue Hill, Maine.
by Ruby Nash
The George Stevens Academy is on the lookout for host families for the 2014-2015 academic year.
The number of host families needed is dependent on the needs of the student body, but generally around 15-20 students per year live with local families instead of in the GSA dorms, said Kathy Pelletier, Director of Student Life for the school.
In terms of process, potential families submit an application, and then GSA representatives visit the home and interview the family. There is an orientation in the summer before the students arrive, followed by routine check-ins as the school year progresses.
Pelletier spoke of the benefits to both the students and host families during a recent interview. “[The students] really have an opportunity to learn about the American culture, and have a family that they can come home to,” she said.
As for the benefits for host families, Pelletier has her own personal experience to draw on: her family has been host to an international student, Jiangqiong “Joan” Liu for the past two years.
Pelletier’s two children have had fun showing Liu things like sledding, skiing, and climbing trees, which she had never done before. And Liu is having her own influence on the Pelletier family. As a senior, Liu is salutatorian of her graduating class this year. Pelletier’s daughter, Maya, is in her first year of high school at GSA. “She’s always been a strong student,” Pelletier said of her daughter. “But she is already talking about colleges, grade point averages, and class rank, and I’m thinking ‘who is this?’”
Both the Pelletier children are talking more about traveling now, and the family posts Chinese words throughout the house in an attempt to learn the language.
“It throws into question a lot of things that we wouldn’t have thought of,” Pelletier said. “We would’ve just gone through the motions and lived, and now we all are thinking a lot more…There are a lot more choices.”
Doug and Jean Hylan and their daughter Grace are another example of a local family that has opened their home to an international student. Chun “Charcy” Ye of Shanghai, China, is a junior at GSA and has been attending the school since her freshman year. She has been living with the Hylans for nearly two years.
“Charcy’s like a daughter to me. She is a daughter to me,” said Jean Hylan. “There hasn’t been any difference. It just doubles your commitment and schedules. But that’s as if you had two daughters going through high school at the same time. And some people have three!”
The family also said that they had a personal reason for inviting Ye into their home. Their daughter, Grace, was adopted from China. “We thought it would be nice if she had some more contact with her birth country,” Doug Hylan said.
“It’s just like having a sister,” Grace said of her international sibling. “I have my own sister, but she’s a lot older than me. I never really lived with her…I was really young. Charcy is more integrated with my friends. It’s really nice to have [her here].”
Hylan and Ye are both on student council, are both student advisors, and both play the piano and vibes. This year Hylan is doing track, and Ye has started a dance team at GSA.
Ye, meanwhile, has become nearly fluent in English over the course of her stay with the Hylans.
“When I was in the dorm, I was really distracted. Like, the whole time,” she said. “And usually, I can’t really keep track of my time. When I live with a host family, I feel like I have more advantage of organizing my own time. It becomes a routine that makes me feel really comfortable. There are certain times I can do my thing, when the house is quiet, and then dinnertime is the entertaining part.”
The host family experience is not always fun and games. “Anytime you go to visit and live with someone else whether it’s in a different country or the same country, you’re going to have differences,” explained Pelletier.
There are cultural differences surrounding laundry, chores, and even temperature difference in the home. A big thing for students so far from home is food. Ye has her parents send recipes from China, which she cooks with the Hylans, and Liu has taught the Pelletiers how to prepare dumplings.
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Pelletier, adding that the GSA host family program works with families one-on-one to navigate problems that arise.
While the relationship is unique, it is mutually beneficial, said Pelletier. Some host families stay in touch with their students long after they leave the home. Others visit their students, and attend events such as graduations or weddings.
Next summer, Grace Hylan will be traveling to China with Charcy Ye, in order to see Shanghai from a local point of view.
“I think living with a host family is a better way to understand this country,” Ye said. “When you’re living in the dorms, even though you are in the United States, you don’t really know the country unless you’re with a family.”
“She came, like, two months after I started high school,” Grace Hylan said of Ye’s arrival in their home. “Our house was so quiet, and then she came.”
“It hasn’t been quiet since,” said Doug Hylan with a smile.
“It really is like having another family member,” Jean Hylan explained. “If you have kids or have had kids, then you have the skills.”