Saturday, July 20, 2013

Windham family hosts Taiwanese students By Elizabeth Richards

Imagine welcoming a group of 10 international students ages 8 to 16 and a couple of their parents into your home for an entire month. Imagine coordinating schedules for these children to attend educational camp programs, visit tourist sites, and experience life in a small American community. For the Bennett family of Windham, this is reality, as they host a group of Taiwanese children and parents in their home for the month of July.

Nathaniel and Nini Bennett met in Taiwan when Nathaniel was teaching there. The experiences that Nathaniel shared about growing up in Windham were the inspiration for hosting groups in their home, said Nini. “My husband came from here. He had a good experience when he grew up and he shared his experience with us. We would like to share his town with all the Taiwanese kids,” she said.

The group is connected to a small English school the Bennetts operate in Nini’s native Taiwan. Nathaniel said the children are either students at the school or friends of students. They invite students from their school to spend a month with them, and use that time to introduce them to Windham and to Maine, letting them experience the American education system, food and way of life, said Nini.

“We can teach them over there, but there’s only so far we can go,” said Nathaniel. “They have to come over here and interact with the other kids, they really have to.”

There’s a lot of pressure in school in Taiwain, Nathaniel said. While their test based system works well for some students, for others it does not, but they could do well here in the US. “We’re trying to introduce them to another choice,” he said. Though there is an adjustment period for the kids when they first arrive, Nathaniel said they love it. “They see a new way,” he said.


This isn’t the first summer the Bennetts have opened up their home. Nathaniel said they’ve been bringing groups from Taiwan to Windham since they returned here to live. They want to introduce an international element into the community, which can be difficult, said Nathaniel. “We want to mesh with the community somehow,” he added.

Nini agreed. “What we would like to do is we would like to develop Windham,” she said. “We see many opportunities.” For example, she said, they would like to have long term educational opportunities in the community for Taiwanese students, rather than just a month in summer. The summer is an opportunity for them to try it, she said. Nathaniel added that they have already hosted students for longer time periods, and these students studied at Windham Christian Academy and Cheverus High School.

This group arrived in early July, and will stay with the Bennetts until July 30. The first five days the group was in town was a whirlwind of activity, with visits to Aquaboggin, Portland Headlight and Cliff Island, among other activities.

After those first days, the students settled into their summer programs. Two students left for Amherst, Massachusetts to participate in the Great Books program at Amherst College. Seven others are participating in the summer program at Waynflete, and another student has spent time in art programs at both the University of Southern Maine and the Maine College of Art. Another Taiwanese couple is staying with their son for 45 days in an apartment over the Bennett’s garage, and taking him to the same program at Waynflete.
When asked what their goals are in bringing the groups to Windham, Nathaniel said, “We just want to introduce them to the community, and we hope the community can be open to it. Our goal is to have the community embrace other cultures and be open to that.”

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