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Chemeketa program turns strangers into family

By Hannah Liedkie

It’s a big world out there, but you don’t have to leave your home to experience it.

To hear Christina Phillipp tell it, all you have to do is open your doors and welcome an international student into your home.

“You never know how much hosting could change your life as it has for us,” Phillipp says.

“They are only strangers for a short time. They become part of your family quickly.”

Phillipp and her husband, Don, have been hosting international students for 13 years, welcoming Chemeketa students as well as area high school and junior high students.

To date, the Phillipps have housed about 40 international students, nine of whom attended Chemeketa.

“We took a chance on doing this and will continue to do this until we’re too old to do it anymore,” Christina Phillipp says.

Think that it might be right for you?

A logical first step in becoming a host family is to check out Chemeketa’s Cultural Homestay program, which places international students into the homes of hosts.

Teter Kapan, Chemeketa’s director of International Programs, says Homestay is meant to make a visiting student’s transition smooth as they develop language skills and are exposed to American culture.

“Cultural Homestay is important because they’re in a new country, a new culture, eating new food, and it’s nice to have someone there to talk to,” she says.

Kapan also has hosted students through the years.

“They’re fabulous,” she says. “One of the biggest benefits is an insight into other worlds, other countries, other cultures, and to get it right here.”

Phillipp expresses similar feelings about the benefits of hosting international students.

“We get to teach them about our culture, and we get to learn about theirs,” she says. “Also, they keep us young trying to keep up with them.”

Kapan says about 40 to 50 new international students are enrolled each fall term and another 20 or so are enrolled during the rest of the year.

About a quarter of them apply for the Homestay program.

The process to become a host family begins with an application, with general information and a background check conducted by Chemeketa.

After the application is turned in, it takes about a week to process.

When the paperwork is approved, a home inspection to ensure a clean environment is conducted by a staff member who works within the International Programs at Chemeketa.

Among the requirements:

  • One unshared room with a bed and clean linens;
  • A bathroom that is not shared across gender; and
  • Internet access.
  • Host families can consider two options, which are made available to meet the needs of both the student and the host.

    For starters, the students pay rent each month at a flat rate; the price depends on the plan.

    The basic plan is $375, while the plus plan is $500. In the first month, a $200 deposit is required for both plans, in addition to the monthly rate.

    A more independent student would likely choose the basic plan, where the host is only required to provide one cooked meal per week.

    Students who prefer not to cook for themselves are more likely to choose the plus plan, where all daily meals are prepared and provided by the host.

    Both plans require the host to provide transportation for the first week or until the student learns how to use the bus system.

    According to Kapan, even though many people in the community could easily afford to host an international student, Chemeketa is constantly in need of host families.

    “Sometimes it’s difficult for people to allow someone into their homes,” she says.

    But to Christina Phillipp, the visiting students become much more than guests.

    “We don’t have any children of our own, so we wanted to fill a void in our lives and wanted to learn about other cultures at the same time,” she says.

    “All of our students aren’t just students. They are our kids.”

    At least one of her guests agrees.

    Chihiro Ishii, a first­year student from Japan, is currently staying with the Phillipps while attending ESL classes at Chemeketa.

    “I can feel like they are my family,” she says.

    “When I got here, I had no idea what should I do. They took me to the mall, the beach, and shopping.”

    Phillipp has nothing but good things to say about Ishii.

    “We love Chihiro; she is a sweety,” she says.

    Phillipp and her husband have stayed in touch with all the students who have come to stay with them.

    They also had the recent opportunity to visit many of them this past year.

    “We just went to Japan last October and had a family reunion with our kids, about 20 of them,” she says. “They were all from Japan. Our youngest we saw is 18 and our oldest is 46 now.”

    The Phillipps may be a difficult act to follow, but Kapan urges everyone with the means to consider the Homestay program.

    “We’re not asking people to be different,” she says. “We’re not asking people to completely change their lives around. These students are looking to experience an American family and American culture.

    “But they eventually begin to feel like family.”

    If you are interested in learning more about Chemeketa’s Homestay program, contact Kapan’s office at 503-399-5141.

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