The couple hosting international students for 23 years
The couple hosting international students for 23 years
The Wyper family is full of love, faith and generosity. Peter and Jill have been married for 42 years and they have three grown children and 11 grandkids to show for it. The couple has been hosting international students since the mid 1990s, when their own children were young.
“We wanted our kids to experience a different culture. Since we weren’t going to travel overseas as a young family of five, hosting a student sounded like a really nice idea.” – Jill
Unbeknown to them, the moment they opened their door to their first international exchange student, a tradition spanning two decades was born.
TWO DECADES OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
The first student to join the Wyper clan was a Japanese girl who stayed with the family for four weeks. It was a short but sweet visit and after that they were hooked – for the past 23 years, there has been a steady stream of students from all over the world living under Peter and Jill’s roof.
The family has hosted dozens of teens from Thailand and Korea, Brazil and France, China, Japan and more.
What started as a way to enrich the lives of their own children turned into a custom lasting well past when the Wyper children left home. As empty nesters, having students to care for has been a blessing.
Over the years, some exceptional students have etched themselves into Peter and Jill’s hearts, evidenced by a drawer-full of Thank You cards in the family’s dining room.
Sixteen-year-old Brazilian Joao was one such student. He embraced Kiwi life, joining clubs and sports teams, making lots of friends, and forming an incredibly strong bond with his host parents. He turned to Jill for advice and support and Jill even contacted Joao’s father to help him extend his stay from six months to a year.
“Joao was outstanding. The moment he got here we just clicked. He loved our family, our grandchildren.” – Jill
Joao made an impact on everyone he met. When it was time to leave, Jill helped him host a goodbye party with his friends at Kulim Park where over 100 students showed up to farewell their new friend. In his goodbyes, Joao thanked his host family for being such wonderful parents, telling them that he was “living the happiest moment of his life.”
Not long after Joao left, another special student from Brazil arrived at the Wypers’ door.
“Vitoria’s smile gripped my heart from the moment she walked in. I said to Peter, ‘I’m falling in love already!’”
After only three days, Vitoria knew that she had landed herself in a special household and told her host parents how lucky she felt to get placed in their care. She stayed for a whole year and formed a lasting bond with Jill. To this day, she continues to keep in touch with Jill, sending her heartfelt messages on her birthday each year.
HOST MUM AND DAD
Peter is a strong, quiet type who leads by example. He is always available to lend guidance and sage words of wisdom to the students. Busy working for the fire brigade when his children were still at home, Peter was a great role model, careful to walk the line between temporary guardian and father figure.
“I always care for our students and appreciate that they are from a culture totally different to ours. I know that they often miss their mums and are close to their fathers, too.” – Peter
Peter engages them with open-ended questions, encouraging the students to work on their English and develop their interpersonal skills. He’s also known for his great sense of humour.
Jill is warm, energetic and nurturing; she is a wonderful cook and has a lot of love to give. Jill takes on the task of being the students’ main caretaker, a significant role for teenagers living away from their parents for the first time. From day one, the role of host mum has fit Jill like a glove.
“I love the ‘mum’ role. I love cooking and caring for our students. They come here at a vulnerable age in their lives, so I make sure to care for them like they’re my own children.” – Jill
HOST FAMILY TRADITIONS
Along with providing a safe and nurturing home, Peter and Jill show all their students what life in Tauranga is all about. Every time a new student comes to stay, be it for a month or two years, the family has a ritual of seeing sunrise at Mount Maunganui.
“We walk around the Mount and watch the sun come up. Going that early in the morning we usually see sheep, seals and rabbits which is often very novel to the students. Then we treat them to a drink and a muffin afterwards.” – Jill
A Christian family, Peter and Jill always welcome but don’t insist that their students join them at their local church. Whether the students go weekly or not, they encourage them to attend at least once to experience this integral part of their family’s culture.
Beyond that, time flies with day trips to Coromandel and local attractions like climbing the Mount, having a soak at the hot pools and spending time at the beach.
The students not only get to experience a new culture and beautiful country, but they are also often exposed to more family time than they are used to back home.
“Many of the students who come to stay have two very busy working parents back home. They love the emphasis on family time in New Zealand and having mum around more often is a nice change.” – Jill
And while they’re adding value to the students’ exchange experience, the students are adding value right back into their own lives.
“Every time we get an amazing student I think, I’ll stop now, and then we have a gap. But I miss them! I need to fill my home up with love. I love seeing them love the food; the family life.” – Jill
CHALLENGES FACING HOST PARENTS
Of course, there are challenges to hosting international students for over 20 years, but the Wypers take them in their stride. For Peter, running the students – as well as his own three children – around to activities, events and friends’ houses could get tiring. For Jill, saying goodbye was always the hardest part.
“My biggest regret is that I never made an album of all the students.” – Jill
And while the students have almost always been a welcomed addition to their family, there were times when the student placed at their home wasn’t the right fit, which is where the Homestay Manager Loretta McCready fits in.
Loretta came on board as Homestay Manager at Bethlehem College in 2003. Her role is to help the international students find loving and nurturing host families who will care for them in every aspect of their lives while studying and living in Tauranga.
Given only a small description of each student, Loretta works hard to ensure that the students and the family are a good fit. Loretta values any family keen to welcome students into their home and she is especially thankful for and supportive of veteran families like the Wypers. In return, the Wypers credit Loretta with supporting them throughout the process and being there if anything goes awry.
“A huge thing for us is knowing that you have Loretta on hand if it doesn’t work out or if we need help or support.” – Jill
ADVICE FOR HOST FAMILIES
“It is a commitment caring for, feeding, driving and parenting the students. Check your commitment and motive before agreeing to host.” – Peter
“These kids have their whole lives ahead of them. As host parents, we are just a link in the chain. If you think you can be a positive link in their life and affect them into the future, go for it.” – Jill