With sprawling picnics around the downtown Brunswick gazebo and potluck dinners catering to cultures near and far, the Bowdoin Host Family Program helps students feel at home, even when they are not.
Any student—whether from Moscow, Russia or Maine—may sign up for the program and be paired with a family from a neighboring community. The host families, which include single individuals and couples, range greatly in age. Some have had children grow up and leave home, while others have never had children at all.
The program is run by Administrative Assistant Kathleen King, who presides over the board of the Host Family Steering Committee. Michael Wood ’06, associate director of first-year programs, is also on the steering committee.
“It’s open and that appeals to people,” Wood said. “The qualification is being a student at Bowdoin.”
With enrollment reaching 249 students this year, the program is at an all-time high. The application asks basic questions to gauge the interests of students and to understand their motivations for having a host family. After applications are submitted, Brunswick host parents David and Margo Knight, who help run the program, connect families and students whom they think will form a compatible bond.
“[The Knights] connect with the families, and they make them want to be a part of this, and they make them understand how special it is to be a part of this community bond between students and community members,” said Wood.
“It’s interesting how we just kind of coexist with all these people in the Brunswick community, but yet we never necessarily get a chance to reach out to them or know them,” said Luke Trinka ’16, a Chicago-born student in his second year of the program.
Members of the Association of Bowdoin Friends—the organization from which the Host Family Program developed—pay a small amount of money to receive discounted tickets and access to programs on the Bowdoin campus.
“So, 25 years ago when Bowdoin started reaching out and attracting international students to apply and to come, a few of the people who were members of Bowdoin Friends decided that they could actually offer a student a home base because they were going to be very very far from home,” said Margo Knight.
Typically each host family is paired with one student, but some families decide to take on more than one student. Students often stay with the same family year to year.
“I live in Southern California and I’m really far from home and I just wanted to have sort of a support system,” Jiaqi Duan ’17 said.
Trinka said that he values the chance to connect with the greater Maine community.
“Here, much of it is just go, go, go. One thing to the next: next class, next reading, next assignment-type thing. But stepping outside of campus, going to my host family’s house—it’s just very refreshing because I often feel like I can actually experience time,” Trinka said.
Current host parent of three and past host parent of many, Surrey Hardcastle said she feels nothing but gratitude for the program. Coming from a Bowdoin family and married to a Bowdoin graduate, Hugh Hardcastle ’65, she said she always found herself drawn to the Bowdoin community. As is often the case, Hardcastle’s relationships with the students she meets goes beyond their time at Bowdoin.
“Sometimes I look at it and say, ‘What do these kids want to do with us?’ We’re like their grandparents age. You know, we’re the old fogeys. But you know what, I think sometimes it’s sorta nice to have a grandma or grandpa around,” Hardcastle said.