As Family Day fell on February 18 and celebrated the importance of families, it is quite fitting to reflect on the familial bonds created by NC through its Homestay program. “The best moment of my experience in Canada was that I met Maxine and Craig; they will be my second mum and dad forever,” shared Elisa Meyer, from Nienburg, Germany who attend NC fall 2018 on a semester exchange from Hochschule Bremen.
NC’s manager of cultural & global engagement, Maxine Semple—Ozog, and her husband Craig did not originally plan to host Meyer, but her original homestay was not able to accommodate an earlier than scheduled arrival for her. As the student was connected to Semple—Ozog through the semester exchange program, she hosted Meyer for her first few days in Niagara and the situation ended up becoming permanent after a short period of time.
“Living with Elisa was great in helping me understand not just her German culture, which was far more similar to Canadian culture than I had anticipated, but what was most beneficial was having Elisa share her academic and student experience with me,” said Semple—Ozog. “Each day she would come home, we would talk about how her classes were, what she was learning, what she enjoyed or what was challenging. Professionally, it was great to have Elisa with me to become better connected to the student experience.”
Semple-Ozog shared that Meyer also taught her that it is not just the country that leads to life-changing experiences while studying or living abroad – it’s the people you meet along the way: “The people who you find in those countries that make you feel surrounded by love and comforted by the distance you have between yourself and everything else you’ve ever known. It reminded me how incredibly lucky I have been to have been cared for by people who I parachuted into their lives for months at a time and felt like they were always there for me. I trust we brought that comfort to Elisa during her time in Canada.”
Genuinely loving Meyer like a daughter, Semple-Ozog expressed that Meyer fit in with her family perfectly and explained how difficult it was to say goodbye to the German exchange student this past December. “In my life, it was always me saying goodbye and leaving people I loved in an airport as I excitedly bounced to my next adventure. To be on the other side of that hug, taught me how hard it is to be the one who is left behind cheerleading from home. I’ll be sure to hang on to those hugs just a bit longer now, knowing this feeling.”
Meyer echoed this sentiment of sadness over saying goodbye to her homestay family.
“An amazing moment for me was definitely the last day, my back-flight day. I cried the whole time and had to say goodbye to such amazing people, which love me like their own child as I love them like my real mum and dad,” said Meyer. “But I know there is now a second place I can call my home and I know I can always come back to.”
Referring to the Ozog family as her heroes, Meyer shared how she highly recommends the homestay program. “The best part is you may have a second family at the end of the adventure like I did,” said Meyer. “When you are hundreds of kilometres away from your home country and also don’t speak fluently English or in general the language, a homestay family will help you a lot and support you. Firstly, you are not completely alone at home, you have your homestay family and you can talk with them and practice speaking English. You will also get to see and know more about the country’s culture, food, behavior, and a lot of more.” Meyer also expressed what a pleasure it was to meet her homestay’s extended family and have “have new Granny’s, aunts and uncles.”
Now in Estonia interning at the German Embassy, Meyer expanded on how her experiences in Canada helped shape her professionally and allowed her to develop a deeper understanding of the different work mentalities and business operation in other parts of the world: “At Niagara College I was able to meet people from many other cultures, Asias, Latin Americas, Europeans, Americans and also Canadians. Having a better understanding how they communicate and work will help me a lot if I will work in global teams or in cooperation with them. Now I can feel more and have a better understanding of their problems or communication.”
Meyer also was exposed to new holidays and Canadian customs. Never having had a Thanksgiving dinner before, Semple-Ozog prepared a traditional dinner similar to the ones her mother would have if she was home. “She loved everything, and every bit was followed by the exclamation of “oh my, what is this”,” said Semple-Ozog. “After being absolutely stuffed like a turkey ourselves, I told Elisa that it wasn’t Thanksgiving unless we had my mandatory turkey sandwich after dinner. I made us each a sandwich and we giggled about how full we were as we continued to eat, the best part of the meal, – an after dinner turkey sandwich.”
Reflecting on her Homestay experience and memories of Meyer, Semple-Ozog shared, “Elisa was our gift of 2018.”