September 04, 2015 1:15PM
The Host Family Program, which pairs international students at Pittsburg State University with local families for cultural exchange, can be an enriching experience for both the students and their new American friends. But occasionally, it becomes so much more.
That has been the case for Troy and Susan Bastion of Arma, Kan., their 13-year-old son, Nic, and Andre Souza, a former Pitt State student from Brazil.
Over the years, the Bastions have served as a host family for a number of international students and although they developed close ties with each of their students and still keep in touch with them, something special happened when they met Souza.
“Andre became one of us, like a member of the family,” Troy Bastion said.
One thing that stood out, the Bastions said, was the bond that developed between Nic and Andre.
“There’s not a lot of 26-year-old men who would take a lot of interest in a 13-year-old boy,” Susan Bastion said. “He’s as interested in what Nic’s doing and what Nic would like to do as are his own sisters and maybe more so. It really is like a brother kind of relationship between the two.”
Nic taught Andre about American football and Andre taught Nic soccer and tennis. The two also spent hours fishing, swimming, talking and, like most brothers, teasing each other.
“It’s great,” Nic said. “He knows more how it is and he puts up with me and I put up with him and we do everything we can together.”
Souza said the Bastions’ openness was more than he expected when he signed up for the Host Family program.
“I had no previous experience abroad, so everything was new to me,” Souza said. “I thought it would be a good idea to hang out with an American family and learn about their culture, find out what they like and don’t like and what we have in common. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting so cool, and so lovely a family and that they would fit so great in my daily life -- just exactly like my family back in Brazil.”
Because they had become so close to Souza, it was hard for the Bastions to see him leave to return to Brazil two years ago.
“It was like seeing my own brother leave,” Nic said. “He is part of the family.”
“It was really hard when he left,” Susan Bastion added, “but I knew his parents missed him.”
The Bastions and Souza had a reunion this past summer when Souza returned to the U.S. for a friend’s wedding.
“I couldn’t leave the U.S. again without seeing those guys again,” Souza said.
The Bastions and Souza are great advocates for the Host Family Program and the International Friends of Pittsburg, a volunteer group founded to share home and community life with international visitors.
“To say that it’s enriching is an understatement,” Troy Bastion said. “I think that to be able to spend time with these kids and learn about their culture, learn what makes their lives their lives and how truly similar their lives are to ours really is kind of a neat thing. For our children, it’s been wonderful.”
He added that host families can choose to be as involved with their international students as they like.
“One of the things I’ve found so far with host students is that these kids may really just need nothing more than sitting in your living room and visiting with you,” Troy Bastion said. “They may be taking an intensive English class and they may need to just talk to understand the language and how you put the language together. So I think one of the things is don’t read a lot of expectations into it. Just start and learn as you go.”
Nic has advice specifically for youngsters.
“Don’t just sit in the background,” Nic said. “Don’t just let the parents talk to them. Go out and make them your friend.”
Currently, there are more than 520 international students enrolled at Pittsburg State University. International Friends of Pittsburg officials say additional American families are needed to accommodate the number of international students interested in being matched with a local host family.
For more about becoming a Host Family for international students, call the Office of International Programs and Services, 620-235-4680, or visit the International Programs and Services website, www.pittstate.edu/international and click on the Programs link. More about International Friends of Pittsburg can be found on their Facebook page.