I believe in building bridges. Between people. If we are to make any of the substantial changes the world needs, we need yet more bridges.  I think the teenagers of today are the bridges to tomorrow.

When I was a child my parents took in overseas students through The Colombo Plan. I have no idea how or why they connected to this organisation.  However, over the years we had students from Malaysia and Vietnam live with us while they studied.  We also had a Dr from Fiji. His was a different situation, he was in New Zealand for cancer treatment. These visitors wove rich threads of variety and colour through my childhood.  They taught me valuable lessons of tolerance and compassion; essential elements for bridge building.

Many years later, and in another land my son was given an opportunity to study the Korean language in his early years of high school. Later he came home excited by the news that a group of Korean students would be visiting for a few weeks, and families had the chance  to invite a student to live with them for that time. We signed up.

This was a rich and rewarding experience. Within days of his arrival KSW won our hearts. Very few days passed before I could not tell which boy in the back seat was speaking Korean. This gracious young man was fascinated that my father cooked. We took him to the surf beach, to the shops, to family events. He called me mother. He still does. Some 9 years later my son and I were guests at his home in Seoul, along with his parents.  The 3 weeks of his stay with us was an amazing time.

It proved to be the beginning of over a decade of International students arriving at out home. They came to us through private colleges and study tour groups. Of the 64 we had stay, we had 2 that ran away, two with serious cultural shock, and  two we gave back after 12 hours. The youngest was 14, and the oldest was 65.

They came from China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Korea.  We had our favourites, and a few that drove us crazy but overall they have been great kids. I recall a game of Uno where we had eight nationalities represented.  Generally these young teenagers were eager to learn and keen to not disgrace their families.

Some spoke Beautiful English but had no idea what they were say ‘ We do not like potatoes, may we have chips. We do not like bread. May we have sandwiches’  Many, if not most struggled with tenses: past present future and the he/she issue. We struggled with real Asian names, and chuckled at the twee English names schools would give them.  We all laughed when we had ‘Who’ stay with us.After the 1st evening’s confusion there was an animated conversation in Mandarin and then one student called our attention and introduced ‘Lily’. Now we could ask the group Who wants rice? Who wants ice cream?

Now I have a Korean son, and yes also a Korean grandson, for whom I had been invited to choose an English name. With an Australian influence. I chose Jarrah. Like the tree, not the drink.

I have a beautiful Japanese daughter – she was and is a real treasure; how we laughed as she tried to learn to pronounce Reece Witherspoon…and recited over and over, as she washed up each night ‘Around the rugged rocks the rugged rascal ran’. We spent a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of the budding  Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes romance. This was the vehicle for forming an opinion and finding the English words to defend it. I must add that Ikoo nursed me through pneumonia. And we had hilarious fun with the family upstairs that also hosted a student.

Then there is my lovely Chinese daughter. She came with few English words, a big smile and an eagerness to learn. I served her a bowl of rice on her 1st morning, by the 2nd day I thought she might be hungry so I added a fried egg to the rice, and placed a bottle of soy sauce on the table. We still laugh about it. Watching her grow from 16 to 26 (not all living with me) was wonderful. She evolved into a beautiful elegant young woman. A hopeless romantic she loved movies, walking in the rain and shopping. Oh the shopping. This charming elegant girl has now become a mother.

And finally, for now, there is the courageous 65-year-old woman who came for 3 months and changed her life, and mine.

She had survived a brain tumour and then announced to her older traditional Japanese husband that she was going to teach him how to care for himself as she was coming to Australia to learn English.  She hit the ground running and never looked back. My goodness. I would wake early to unfamiliar smells, and there in the kitchen I would find, what I called ‘the sushi factory’. Wrapped in her apron and scarf from home she would prepare large containers of sushi, smiling and nodding to me ‘students hungry’.  She was feeding the school. She would go to the park to hug a tree, and arrive home with stories of ‘I met a lady and went to her house for tea…’and other similar alarming accounts…strangers would arrive to deliver her home, she’d been lost…She made perfect ANZAC cookies, a trial run, the actual ones for the day of her class presentation, and then a final batch for the re-enactment as ‘entertainment’ at the birthday dinner she put on for me. E left my home, but has never left my heart.

Parents throughout Asia give their children the opportunity to study in such places as Australia, New Zealand, USA Canada etc. For those of us that take these teenagers into our homes, our families, and our hearts, we get to engage in a little bridge building.

Have you hosted a student? What was the best thing about the whole experience? And the funniest…?