(Source: Constructor University)
They have been host families since Jacobs University began: Connie Broeker and Manfred Kroll have been looking after students from all sorts of countries for the past 15 years. As participants in the Jacobs University Host Family Program, they help to familiarize students with life in Germany and with the numerous facets of the city of Bremen and the surrounding area. As host families are always needed for the coming year’s new students, they also wish to inspire other residents of Bremen and the region to follow their example.
What do you need to be a host “Mom” or “Dad”? Connie Broeker and Manfred Kroll don’t have to think long about this. “Open-mindedness is the most important factor,” emphasize the two colleagues from the Jacobs University Host Family Team. “A lot of people think that being a host family keeps you very busy all the time,” says Connie Broeker. “Far from it.” It’s not at all like a student exchange program: Jacobs University students generally live on the campus, not with their host family. Manfred Kroll adds, “Most of them are fully occupied with the aspects of everyday university life. Nevertheless, when they are so far from home, they do like to have a personal point of contact in the community, even if they see their host family only once a month.”
The definition of a host family is very flexible. Single persons or couples without children living in or around Bremen can volunteer to take part in the Host Family Program as well. “What really counts is an open mind, basic communicative skills in English, and that they enjoy interaction with young people,” says Manfred Kroll. The concept works on an entirely voluntary basis – on the part of the host families in any case, but also on the part of the students, who do, in fact, make very good use of the offer; at present, almost half of the nearly 1,200 Jacobs students have a host family.
This special kind of hospitality is often particularly appreciated by students from faraway places. Many of them are only 17 or 18 years old when they arrive in Germany, and most of them are away from their families for the first time in their lives. Now, they have to stand on their own two feet and get used to living and learning in a foreign country with an unfamiliar language and customs. Connie Broeker knows from experience: “Some of them find the warmth and security of a host family a good remedy for initial feelings of homesickness.”
The Jacobs University Host Family Program is a story of success. Currently, around 500 host families look after one or more students on a completely voluntary basis. Connie Broeker and Manfred Kroll are not only host parents, but they also organize contacts to other host families. Together with their colleague Jutta Eckhoff they make up the Host Family Team – on a voluntary basis. The team is a part of the Student Service Center at Jacobs University, an institution that students from abroad can turn to whenever they need assistance. For example, when they don’t understand letters from authorities, need to fill out forms in German, or need an appointment to see a physician – practical assistance that is frequently welcomed by Jacobs University students. “Although they all learn German at the university, the ‘officialese’ and legal terms in official documents naturally often tend to stretch their linguistic skills to the limit,” explains Manfred Kroll.
“Another fascinating aspect is that working with these young people from every corner of the world lets you see your own country, your city, and even your typical habits and behavior with other eyes,” adds Connie Broeker. “You suddenly begin to stop taking many things that appeared so natural for granted. For instance, the precision with which we plan meetings with friends. Or the way we treat the elderly.” She well remembers Christmas festivities celebrated with students she hosted: “They treated my parents with enormous respect and reverence. As my parents speak hardly a word of English, conversation was a little difficult, but they truly felt and very much appreciated the high regard in which they were held.”
Your view of your own hometown and what it offers changes, too, says Manfred Kroll: “Since my wife and I became host parents, we think a lot more about what we can show our young people. Thanks to this, even we discover many new sides of our city and the region.” Often enough, it has nothing to do with offering the students something spectacular. Often, a short break from everyday life at the university helps students to discover more about life in Germany. “This could be a cycling tour, a stroll around the city, or a birthday party.”
One highlight that simply must be mentioned is graduation day: “You feel a certain pride when you see the young people in their solemn robes stepping up to receive their diplomas. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you helped them to get there along a part of the way.” Sometimes, close friendships with host families endure long after students have finished their studies. Some host families have even been invited to visit their students in their home countries. “A few even traveled to India,” recalls Connie Broeker. She recently visited Rosalba, her Mexican host daughter, in Helsinki, where she is now working in research after obtaining her doctorate
Anyone listening to her and Manfred Kroll soon notices that both have lost none of their enthusiasm for the Host Family Program – even after 15 years and nine students each. They now hope that their enthusiasm will be an inspiration to other potential families. “It’s a win-win situation, whichever way you look at it,” says Connie Broeker. Alone from the standpoint that using English at home became the most natural thing in the world: “When our first host daughter came to us, our own two daughters were just 14 and 16 years old. Both of them chattered their way to fluency in English in no time at all,” she recalls. Manfred Kroll is convinced: “Every student we welcome into our host family brings a new piece of the world to our lives.”
If you are interested in the Host Family Program: