During Covid, locals provide a home away from home

Aiko has shown her culinary skills.

Aiko Utaka’s journey from Thailand to New Zealand has not turned out quite as she planned – but it has helped her cement a special bond with a New Zealand family.

Aiko’s stay has been prolonged by the Covid pandemic.

Families who have supported international students remaining in New Zealand during the school holidays and leave weekends have become a vital component of their pastoral care.

Dhanya says: “Aiko loves soy sauces, so I always stock my pantry when I know that she is coming to stay.”

At St Peter’s there are 52 students and 67 homestays – but most of the homestays are only available for certain parts of the holidays; so, Accommodation Co-ordinator Heather Joubert explains, placements are a puzzle, not just simple arithmetic.

Dhanya Milan and her family first offered to host an international student in term 3 of 2019, as they felt it would be good for their son Mohit to experience having a “big sister” in the home, learning to share and care for another.

In the wake of the pandemic lockdowns, St Peter’s was fortunate in that most international students chose to stay.  Some have not seen their families for nearly a year and all international students stayed with homestays in Waipā during the holidays.

Aiko and her host family have developed a special relationship, Heather says.  Aiko even helps her “little brother” with his maths homework when she is in residence.

“Aiko’s family are very appreciative of the support that their daughter receives in the Milan home, and particularly the extra effort taken to ensure she is happy and comfortable.”

During Aiko’s homestays, they often speak on video with her mother in Thailand and the families have become firm friends.

Dhanya says: “Aiko loves soy sauces, so I always stock my pantry when I know that she is coming to stay.”

Their favourite activities are baking, walking, watching movies and playing the card game Uno.  Aiko shares her advice on make-up and skin care. The highlight though for both is the cultural interaction – learning about Dhanya’s origins from South India and Aiko sharing her Thai culture.

During Lockdown Dhanya and Aiko delighted the St Peter’s community with their baking journey on Facebook, earning quite the reputation and requests for Lockdown delivery.

If you are interested in knowing more about being a homestay host, contact Accommodation Co-ordinator Heather Joubert at heatherj@stPeter’s.school.nz .

Homestay programmes also operate at Te Awamutu College, Cambridge High, Wintec and Waikato University – though they all have been impacted by Covid.

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