Some families work and plan for years to be able to travel to Spain, France, England, South Africa, Israel, or the many other countries where Providence Day has developed its global relationships.
But some may forget that there’s a much easier way to have this international experience — right here at home.
“People are always traveling overseas, but hosting is like having that travel brought to your house,” says Johanne Hawk, mom to four PD students and frequent host to international students. “I’m amazed more people don’t do it!”
Each year, Providence Day offers its current families opportunities to host visiting international students — an increasing number of them from the international network of about 180 Round Square schools of which PD is a member. Typically the visiting students remain in their hosts’ homes anywhere from two weeks to two months, attending classes at PD and soaking up American life. And, of course, bringing experiences from their own cultures to families in Charlotte.
Some host families, including the Hawks, plan a full slate of activities for their visitors, from interstate vacations to museum visits to restaurant tours. But Jessica Williams, Director of Global Programs, emphasizes that no elaborate plans are necessary.
“The students are looking for a real American experience,” she says. “That might be Friday night pizza and a movie.” Some of the visiting students have been impacted most by an outdoor hike, baking cookies, or a trip to Whole Foods — a different shopping experience from what their home country offers. “It’s the average experiences that make a difference. It’s about welcoming someone into the experience you’re already having as a family.”
Twizzlers and Lucky Charms
Johanne and Patrick Hawk have opened their home to visiting international students at PD eight times and counting. They are parents of Chelsea ’12, Tyler ’15, Nathan ’20 (who now attends East Mecklenburg High School), and Sophie ’25, a current PD sixth grader.
Their most recent visitor was Mariana Felix, a 10th grade student from Le Lycee Notre Dame de la Merci in Montpellier, France, who stayed six weeks from February through mid-March. As it happened, the family had already planned a vacation to visit their son at Tulane University during a week that overlapped with Mardi Gras festivities, providing a glamorous excursion for Mariana. They also took her to a program about White House chefs at a local museum; a lecture on Charlotte history at the Morrocroft Public Library; to sample Southern barbecue at Mac’s Speed Shop; and to a "Courageous Conversations" event on the PD campus.
But what Mariana will remember the most, she said in an interview during her final week at PD, are experiences including her first Twizzler. Her first bowl of Lucky Charms. Peanut butter. The opportunity to compare pancakes to French crepes (pancakes might be better, she said). Her biggest impression from the New Orleans trip? “So many billboards. I love billboards!”
And, of course, she’ll remember the differences between Providence Day and her home school. She has enjoyed PD assemblies (“we don’t have that in France”); the many clubs; attending the musical “Grease”; and basketball games. “We don’t have sports in our schools. Here, school is like a city. There is so much you can do!”
She continued: “I miss my family, but I’m really happy to be here.”
Johanne chimed in: “It’s been fun with Mariana because she will try anything and everything. Not all of (our visitors) will!” she said with a laugh. “The things in our culture that we take for granted….You have a different lens on that.”
Williams says the families often develop relationships with their visitors that go on for years after they host. It’s not necessary for a family to have a child the exact same age as the visitor, she adds. While that arrangement can work well, sometimes the deepest relationships are with younger siblings, where the visiting student can take on a nurturing role. For Mariana, who has one sister at home, “I learned what life would be like if I had more siblings,” she said.
There’s another important reason many families volunteer to host, Williams adds. “They want their students to be prepared for working in an international environment.
“They know that what the future holds is that we are all growing more interconnected around the world.”
A Taste of Spain
Providence Day families hosted four eighth-grade students for four weeks in February and March. Here are two experiences:
“Hosting Celia, an eighth grader from Madrid, was a wonderful experience for our family. We were a bit hesitant because our daughters were younger than the exchange student and because the duration of the visit would be one month.
As it happened, the grade differences didn't turn out to be an issue, and the month flew by. The three girls got along well, and we all learned a few new Spanish phrases.
Exposure to people from other parts of the world and different cultures is important to our family. Vacation travel is one way we try to achieve this. However, having an exchange student live with you really provides a deeper level of understanding.
Our kids learned first-hand how much people are alike, no matter where they come from. We look forward to hosting again sometime in the future.”
—Susan & Dan Scanga
“PD’s global emphasis is a key part of what drew us to becoming part of this community. Experiencing new cultures and traveling is something that is important to our family and it was a natural extension for us to open our home to an international student.
Both our children (Ayla ’23 and Ethan ’25) are taking Spanish, and when the opportunity came up to host an 8th grade student from Spain for a month this spring, we were eager to put our hand up.
Hosting was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for our entire family. We were excited to learn about our student's home and share ours. We tried to devote snippets of time to practicing Spanish and certainly spent a lot of time speaking in English (and explaining idioms!).
We realized how much is universal, like music, and how some aspects of our daily lives are very different (such as when we eat dinner). We were reminded about what a great campus, staff, and collaborative learning environment we have at PD.
We learned that the best thing you might have eaten in the United States was macaroni and cheese. We learned that it takes work to be gracious host students and that everyone needs a different amount of space. But more than anything, we learned that our daily lives were made brighter by sharing them.” —Amy & Marc Andrews
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