United Nations of Ferndale: Ferndale residents make room in their homes (and...

United Nations of Ferndale: Ferndale residents make room in their homes (and hearts) for international exchange students.

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Story and photos by Kevin Alan Lamb

Have your children grown up and moved away? Or perhaps you’ve lost the one you loved and have grown too familiar with the way an empty house feels. No matter how the pages turned in your story, the next chapter in your life may be a protagonist who infuses youth, culture, and a daily reminder that life is beautiful.

Just ask Charlene Marklein Nutton, who has welcomed Educatius International student Worapong Kitti-a-nong Oh into her home, from Thailand.

“I am a widow so there is only Oh and myself. Oh has bought many photos on his computer, and before seeing them I knew very little about Thailand. It is a beautiful country and much more modern in parts than I thought. Ninety-seven percent of the people of Thailand are Buddhist. Oh has taught me a number of things about his religion. While he is here we are going to visit a temple. Oh is very gracious and likes to cook a number of his country’s dishes. We have been to downtown Detroit to see how close Canada is, the new DEB building, Belle Isle, a wedding and Arts, Beats & Eats. On Sunday we are going to a Tiger’s Game. His English has improved a lot since he arrived 11 days ago,” Nutton says.

Educatius International is a global leader in the field of international education seeking families in Berkley, Clawson, Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Bloomfield to host international students attending Clawson, Ferndale, and Bloomfield Township high schools for the upcoming school year.

“Hosting an international student is an enriching experience for the family, the student, the schools, and the community. There is a sharing of cuisines, language, culture, relationships, and life in a different part of the world where one may have only read about or seen on television. An international student is here to experience American culture and improve their English language skills. They can add interest in learning in the classroom as they learn from us and we learn from them,” Debi Wilkelis of Educatius International says.

Oakland County Schools have endorsed the program for the 2015-16 year, placing students in high schools throughout Oakland County. A local coordinator is provided by Educatius International to supervise and work with the host families and schools to ensure a positive experience.

Host Mother Shari Berard says, “I raised two wonderful boys through the Ferndale school system and now I am alone. Meeting Debi and (listening to) her persuasive ways, I soon was hosting a girl from Spain in my home. The first night, with students arriving, I had five people in my living room speaking four different languages. Seeing these students who are willing to leave their homes and live with those who speak another language and then studying in that language takes courage. It has been a joy to meet and be with others in this program.”

While welcoming someone from a foreign a land into your home may be intimidating, with a built- in language barrier, it just might also be one of the best experiences of your life. After all, it’s not every day you are given a chance to welcome a brave, cultured, and grateful child into your family. Children like Worapong Kitti-a-nong Oh, who shares a few of his exciting experiences so far.

“At school in Thailand, I have nine periods each day and end the class at 4:00 P.M. every day but here, I have only seven periods each day and end class at 3:05 P.M.. It’s a new experience for me that school ends earlier. Also, I am able to speak English with my friends in the class every time because in Thailand, I speak English only in the English class. Next, I am able to see something that we don’t have in Thailand such as weddings in the other country. I can feel weather that is very very very cold for me because in Thailand, that’s always 80 degrees. Last, I am able learn about living with the other people that isn’t my family; my host.”

Educatius reimburses monthly with a set stipend of $300 to offset the cost of hosting. A referral bonus of $100 is offered for approved host families who host. It is a common misconception that families think they must entertain or treat their students as guests.

“We encourage them to treat them as extended family members who participate in family functions and help with chores around the home no different than their own children,” Wilkelis says.

Students can share a room with another student within the same age range and sex, so long as they have their own bed and closet/dresser. Host families are expected to provide student’s three meals a day, understanding that lunch may be purchased at school. Additionally, host families are asked to drive students to activities at least three times a week.

Candela Ruano is a 14-year-old high school student from Spain, attending Ferndale High School. She shares some her most interesting experiences thus far.

“High school definitely, it’s so exciting to meet new people. At first it was scary (for everybody is) but then is amazing. Everyone treats so well and you feel really comfortable. I’m in Ferndale High School and I should be in 10th grade but, because I’m an exchange student, I’m a senior so that I can graduate and ‘feel’ more the experience. Ferndale is a really quiet place but with a lot of things to do. I have the advantage to live near 9 Mile where there are a lot of stores,” says Ruano.

Hosting is a rewarding and enriching experience that may be just what you need, but didn’t know to look for. Educatius is still in need of host families for students from Spain, Thailand, and other countries. If you are interested in learning more about hosting, please contact Debi Wilkelis at 586-381-5174 or debiw.educatius@gmail.com.

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