Lifestyle

Olympic College seeks host families for foreign exchange students

Consider your home's vacant guest room more than a makeshift, clutter-catching storage area. That's the sentiment of Hiroko Havekost, host family coordinator for the International Student Program at Olympic College.

OC needs families to host foreign exchange students for the upcoming school year, beginning Sept. 22, according to Havekost.

Host families must live somewhere with easy access to the Bremerton campus, either nearby or on a popular bus line. Most current and former host families are residents of either Bremerton or Silverdale.

Havekost said 28 international students attended OC during the 2008 spring quarter, coming from 11 different countries — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Peru, Phillipines, Spain, Mali and Curacao.

That diverse global representation brings international culture together while facilitating lifelong relationships, making host parenting a dynamic opportunity.

"It's about the experience," Havekost said. "Meeting those students from different countries is exciting, you learn a great deal."

Because almost all international students study in the United States to learn the language, host families must speak English and encourage their student to practice speaking the language.

"That's really important, because they are here to learn the language," Havekost said. "It's a crucial part of the host family, it's number one."

Under OC's traditional "homestay" program, host families are compensated $575 per month to cover food, utility and other living costs. The non-traditional plan, in which students buy their own food, reimburses $400 a month.

"Not many people know that Olympic College has an international student program," program assistant Akiko Bates said, explaining that because OC is a commuter campus, international students don't have the luxury of living in on-campus dormitories.

"We don't have dorms, so the host family is (important)," Havekost added.

Before a student moves in with a family, Havekost spends between two and three weeks learning about the student's needs and how they can — and will — be met by the host family.

"My biggest challenge is matching the students with the hosts," she said, adding that food preferences tend to be different between students and hosts.

And while some conflict is inevitable, Hovekost said nearly every host-student relationship results in a deep bond.

"I think we have a very good track record," she said. "Students love it here and we're very proud of them for their achievements."

International students generally attend OC for two years, the most common areas of study being business, engineering and psychology, before moving on to a four-year university. Currently, one former international student attends Seattle University while another is at the University of Southern California.

The International Student Program puts on potlucks and picnics to acquaint students and families and also celebrates international student graduations.

For more information on the International Student Program or to become a host family, visit www.olympic.edu/students/internationalstudents/housing.htm or contact Havekost at (360) 475-7562.

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