Hong Kong student finds home in Bladen County

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

DUBLIN — A student from just may have found her new home.

Liu Wa Lee was born in Hong Kong, the middle child of three siblings. Like all students in the autonomous Chinese territory, she began taking English classes in primary school, during which she selected an English moniker — Eva.

Several years ago, Eva’s family of five welcomed into their Hong Kong home an exchange student from Italy, and the experience so impacted Eva that she decided to enroll herself.

“It looked fun,” she commented. “I thought it would be a good way to learn about culture.”

A Bladen County family, meanwhile, had the same thought. Tommy and Megan Knight and their four children — Teddy, 12, Dannen, 10, Andy, 8, and Lila, 5 — live in Dublin, and at the same time Eva was thinking about studying abroad for her senior year, the Knight family was talking about their own experiences with foreign exchange students.

“When I was growing up, my family hosted three foreign exchange students,” Megan explained. “I’m very close to one of them, still, and really enjoyed having all three of them.”

Both Eva and the Knights signed up with Ayusa — a non-profit that places foreign exchange students with American hosts — and Eva moved in with the Knight family in August. She is currently enrolled in West Bladen High School as a senior.

“I like her,” said Dannen.

A homeschooling family, the Knights regularly incorporate Chinese vocabulary, history, and culture into their lessons.

“The kids love to ask her questions,” Megan remarked. “I think that’s one of the best things (about hosting a foreign exchange student) — it teaches you there’s more to life outside your world. That’s something we want our children to know. It also teaches you about hospitality and using your God-given gifts to share with others.”

“Foreign exchange students are a window into another culture and a great way to travel the world without leaving your home,” said Connie Lawrence, community representative for Ayusa. “Suppose you’re a family whose child is dreaming of Japanese culture — chances are, the average family is not going to make it to Japan in their lifetime. You’re bringing a piece of that culture to your child.”

The teaching of different cultures goes both ways, according to the Knights, and no more so than when it comes to food. The Knights said Eva occassionally cooks for the American family, and they described her sweet flour dumplings boiled in ginger as “amazing” and a family favorite. For Eva, learning American food is an ongoing process, one that began with a love of sour cream that she mistook for yogurt and now eats every chance she gets.

“We don’t have that in Hong Kong,” Eva explained with a grin. “I really like it.”

A little over halfway through the program, the Knights are reflecting on their experience thus far and say it has been so beneficial, in fact, that they’re hoping to repeat it.

“We’re definitely talking about hosting again, maybe every other year,” Tommy said.

“We get that a lot,” commented Lawrence. “Many families say they want to take a year off, then jump right back in. It’s just such a good experience for everyone — not just the family and the exchange student, but the community as well.”

Along the same lines, Eva has enjoyed her time here so much, she hopes to extend it as well. An aspiring nurse, the high school senior would like to attend college in the States and ultimately work here, perhaps with children — Megan called her the “baby whisperer” of Dublin First Baptist Church.

“I think if I stay here, I may like it better than Hong Kong,” Eva said with a smile.

Ayusa is currently accepting applications for families to host exchange students for the 2018-2019 school year. Applicants can agree to host for five months in the fall or for the full ten-month academic year. Foreign exchange students are fully insured, bring their own spending money, and are proficient in English. Families are only required to provide three meals a day and a bedroom that is private or shared with a host sibling of the same gender. Each family is supported by a professionally trained community representative who works with the family and student for the entire program.

Megan attested to the surprising ease of the commitment.

“People think it’s going to cost a lot of money, but it really doesn’t,” said Megan. “Other than feeding a providing a bed, it doesn’t really cost anything. I’d encourage anyone who can do it to at least think about it.”

“We welcome host families of all shapes and sizes – families with young children, families with no children, empty nesters whose children have left home, single parents and non-traditional families,” says Lawrence. “The key requirements for a host family are to provide a safe and nurturing home environment, genuinely love children, and have a desire to learn about other cultures.”

She added, “We have students vying for spots from all over the world. This is a prime time to apply, so we can get the school space secured and so you have a large portfolio of students to choose from. I would love to see both (East Bladen and West Bladen) full.”

More information about Ayusa or about hosting an exchange student may be found by contacting Lawrence by phone at 919-552-3647 or email at clawrence@ayusa.com, or by visiting www.ayusa.com.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

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Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal