Each September, Brunswick-area residents open their homes to newly arrived Bowdoin students. Besides offering them a place to stay when the college is closed, hosts will often take their students to the beach, to restaurants, to religious services, and on sight-seeing excursions. Most importantly, from the student’s point of view, hosts invite them over for home-cooked meals.
Traditionally the Bowdoin Host Family Program has paired families with foreign students, but in the last few years, the program has grown as more students from western or southern states have requested local families.
This semester, Bowdoin changed the name of the program from the Host Family Program to Bowdoin Community Host Program. Hosts don’t need to fit the idea of a nuclear family; they can include childless couples, single people, couples with young children, and older people with grandchildren, according to Assistant Dean of First-year Students Michael Wood. “This idea of a host family prevented people from reaching out and participating in the program,” he said.
To keep up with the expanding program, the College is seeking more volunteer hosts. At the moment, about 270 students and over 200 hosts participate. Students are matched with hosts based on similar interests or a student’s wish to connect with young children, the elderly, or even with a house dog or cat.
Osbor Ng’imor ’18 said that since arriving in Maine from Kapenguria, Kenya, he has seen a lot of the state with his hosts, Robert and Catherine Jarratt. They’ve also taken Ng’imor out on their boat and to a Sea Dogs baseball game, had him over to watch movies, and treated him to dinners out. “I love them,” Ng’imor said. “They have made my time here better.” In return for their hospitality, Ng’imor has cooked the Jarratts a Kenyan meal of ugali with beef and kale.
Rubi Duran ’15, of Tucson, Ariz., said her hosts, Jim and Alicia Klick, welcome her at the airport when she arrives and make sure she gets to the airport when she leaves. But that’s the least of what they do for her. “They have truly been my family away from home,” Duran said. “Whenever I am stressed or need a break, I know I can spend the weekend or a day at their house. Whenever I am missing home, I can go over and enjoy some time with them and Briggs (their spoiled, adorable black lab). It’s nice to know that there is a family close by that cares about you when you are so far away from your own.”
David and Margo Knight have run the host program since 2008. When they talk about the program, they share anecdotes of the many students they’ve adopted and grown close with over the years. There was Kayla Baker ’09, their first student, from Little Rock, Ark. “We had a wonderful four years with Kayla,” Margo said. David added, “We went through college again with Kayla.”
There was Sam Mayne ’16 and Muska Anwar ’14, who came over to carve pumpkins. Mayne also helped the Knights put up their Christmas trees (he is 6’2″). Shirley Zhao ’15 took up percussion, introducing the Knights to a new type of concert at Bowdoin. “It was nice, too, because Shirley’s parents couldn’t be there to go to the performances,” Margo noted. Manuela Ekowo ’13, from Miama, Fla., loved going to the beach and helping Margo cook.
This year, they hosted Tom Ezquerro ’18, whose mother always packed some Buffalo, N.Y., treats for the Knights with him when he returned to campus, “like sponge candy, the best rye bread, and a butter lamb for Easter,” Margo said. And Tom took care of their 15-pound Maine Coon cat, Gritty, when they went away.
“For the students, it has been so nice for them to be around this table, in a setting that is not school, and talking about things not related to school,” Margo said.
The exchange is also enjoyable for the hosts. “These kids are smart and ambitious, with a million interests,” David said. “I haven’t met a Bowdoin student who is dull.”
“This program has truly enriched our lives,” Margo said.
Photos from this year’s annual host program banquet in Daggett Lounge