Part of the family

We recently spoke to Jean and Ken in Powys about a wonderful friendship they have enjoed with a Chinese student who first visited them over ten years ago.

Please tell us a little about what prompted you to start welcoming students into your home as part of the HOST UK programme.

JEAN: We moved here from Bolton when Ken retired. I think I first found HOST through an advert online.

Ken: I grew up in London and lived amongst people of other cultures and faiths and Bolton was similarly multi-cultural. I also met lots of people from some of the ships that came in the years after Windrush and helped them with orientation and train timetables. Since I became a Christian in my 20’s we have been involved in an ethos of integration. We’d done hosting before through our church, we entertained missionaries and visitors, and we were also involved in school exchange programmes with a school in Germany.

J: The first guest we had was in 2008. Sophia came up from Swansea to visit us, then Charlene came for a Festive Visit in December 2010 from Warwick University. She took the train from Warwick, through Birmingham and Shrewsbury to Llandrindod Wells. After we had arranged for her to visit, our son said he wanted to bring his girlfriend, so she came as well, and it made it a real family Christmas. We had a typical Christmas dinner and we exchanged small gifts. It was one of those years where it really snowed heavily and that was very unusual for Charlene to see.

K: Our son had a 4×4 and enjoys driving. He took all of us up to the Elan Valley where there is a series of reservoirs. They were partly frozen and the top one was fully frozen over, which has never happened again since we’ve been here. Charlene then came back to visit us again in Easter 2011 and she brought a friend with her. They came on the bus and sat at the front and had a 3-hour tour of the countryside, which they thought was wonderful. We took them to the beach at Ynyslas, near Aberystwyth and they flew kites and there were people all around watching in amazement. Everybody was trying to get their kites up, but it was too windy.

We all had a lovely time, and they became just like family.

And you’ve kept in touch with Charlene over the years?

J: Yes, Charlene completed her Business Studies degree and went to work in London for the Danish Tourist Agency. She met a young man called Jonathan, who is English/Chinese and in 2013 we received an invitation to their wedding. The wedding was in August in Surrey. Her father couldn’t travel to the wedding due to ill health, but we met her mother Po Wah and some of their UK-based families. That was where the bond with Charlene’s mother was established. Although she had very little English, we managed to communicate with gestures and miming.

Charlene keeps in touch regularly through Facebook and we have always exchanged Christmas cards. Unfortunately, Charlene’s father died, and we then learnt that Po Wah was planning a three-month trip to the UK and wanted to meet us again.

When did the visit take place?

K: It was March this year, just one day. Charlene, Jonathan and their two children came with Po Wah. We went out for lunch. Charlene wanted her mother to see the Elan Valley reservoirs, so we drove up there and Jonathan took some photographs of us together. We had a meal at home in the evening and they were helping in the kitchen. They were straight back into being part of the family.

Charlene, Jean and Ken enjoying their visit to Elan Valley

J: When they left, Po Wah gave us a note in Chinese, which I translated on my phone. It said ‘So happy to see you. Thank you very much for your greetings and care over many years and for your warm hospitality today. I sincerely wish you happiness and wellbeing.’

What do you think you have enjoyed the most about hosting?

J: I just think it’s all about the interchange of cultures. Before the first student came, I was really nervous. Is it going to work? What if we don’t get on? I needn’t have worried at all. And this latest time when they came with the kids as well, they’re just really lovely people. I think we have gained good friends, and it gives them an insight into British life. And I think this is what HOST has done for us.