Passionate About the Community
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Saying YES to our Little Girl from China: Our Educational Homestay Program Experience

When it comes to new experiences for my children, I am the say YES mom. My mind usually skips over the worrying about how challenging the commitment could be, and positive visions dance in my head. So, that’s exactly what I did when I was presented with the opportunity to invite a child from China into our home last summer through the Educational Homestay Program. I just said YES, and I trusted that the little details would come together. Sometimes I kick myself for that optimism later, but saying YES to Rose was one of the best decisions I made for my children and me last summer. We fell in love with a nine-year-old little girl. YES, she did not fluently speak our language, and YES, there were some challenging moments. But, she enriched our home with memories and cultural experiences that we will treasure forever.

Education First is looking for families to say YES again this summer. Their Educational Homestay Program is bringing a group of students from Shanghai, China to St. Augustine to improve their English skills and explore American culture. Fifty-one students and three chaperones will visit our beautiful city from July 7th to July 23rd. EF program staff supervises students during weekday classes and activities, and students spend evenings and weekends with their host families. The group of students includes boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13. Volunteer host families provide a bed, meals, family time, and transportation to and from their course center, which is centrally located at Memorial Presbyterian Church. Host family teens can even earn up to 45 community service hours for hosting. Would you consider opening your heart and home to a Chinese student for two and a half short weeks?

Kejing (Rose) came into our home with tears in her eyes, jet-lagged and homesick, as a stranger. This brave nine-year-old left China, her family, and her language, and she stepped way outside of her comfort zone by joining a family of strangers in the USA. She spoke very little English, but she was determined, stubborn to say the least, and full of spunk. I would say those qualities are what helped her to thrive here. Her willingness to go on adventures with my family helped her to fit in perfectly. She loved her first time in the ocean, horseback riding, swimming, kayaking, exploring, and our many hours spent as imaginary princesses. She jumped right into new situations, like gymnastics class and church youth group, with a joyful spirit and desire to learn. We even taught her the important things in life, like how to properly dunk an Oreo.

She wasn’t the only one who learned new things, though, as she taught my daughters and me more than we could have imagined during her time with us. I took her on as if she was one of my own children, loved and cared for her, and even became vulnerable with her at times. Though we were ready to return to our normal by the end, we quickly missed her sweet smile, adorable voice, and spunky personality. The last weekend of her visit she told me, “I love you” (我爱你 Wǒ ài nǐ), and she stole a chunk of my heart that I didn’t know I had. We love you too, precious Rose, and you are welcome back in our home anytime. You are smart, fierce, creative, tender and loved. Thank you for braving this adventure with us, and xièxiè 谢谢 to your parents for entrusting their only child to me and my daughters.

I am sure you can think of twenty reasons off of the top of your head why you cannot be one of the families to say YES this summer. But if a single mother to a two-year-old and a five-year-old said YES, I believe you can, too. EF’s deadline to place the last 18 students is quickly approaching in June, and without families like yours, these students will not be able to visit our country. While sending a small child to another country may seem shocking to us as American parents, learning to speak English is a huge priority to the parents of these children, as it helps them to achieve success in their country. These parents and children are hoping and patiently waiting for their SAY YES family. What a privilege it is to have this opportunity available to us right here in our little city of St. Augustine. Thank you for considering making this dream a reality for a family in China.

For more information please contact Sandi Zeljko at (904) 295-4454, or John Pritchard at (904) 806-3144, and tell them St. Augustine Moms Blog referred you.

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