A familiar face in the stands cheering on an athlete or someone to enjoy a meal with can provide a home away from home, especially for foreign exchange students. As families prepare to gather around tables for a Thanksgiving feast, Western Nebraska Community College dorm parents David and Rebecca Shields will welcome foreign exchange students to their table.
Rebecca Shields said they learned about the dorm parents program while attending a WNCC basketball game.
“We would go to basketball games and at halftime they would show the host parents and the dorm kids and I thought that was really cool,” she told the Star-Herald. “I contacted them about how we could be host parents and we’ve done it ever since.”
For the last 15 years, the Shields welcome students from around the world into their home, spending time with them during holidays and also exploring a variety of activities in the valley and neighboring states.
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With two children of their own, Rebecca said they felt like having athletes from around the world interacting with their girls would be a good opportunity for them. The family has learned about Brazil and Germany as well as other states in America.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the family hosted a Brazilian soccer player for Thanksgiving and Christmas. While the students were introduced to the American holidays, Shields said they also incorporated something from the student’s culture, so there was an element of home.
“It was a couple of years ago when the college had a bunch of Brazilian soccer players, but none of them could fly home because of COVID,” she said. “We had them over for Thanksgiving and Christmas and we would always try to incorporate something from their country into the meal – whether it’s a dessert, a meat or a side dish.”
The students showed the family how people prepare and eat food around the world. A Serbian student wanted to incorporate crepes into the meal, making crepes using a special mixture he brought from Serbia.
“They take a lot more time in preparing good, delicious meals,” Shields said. “For us it might be a quick grilled cheese or a sandwich and for them, they would take their time.”
Shields recalled students learning about the holiday Halloween and wanting to participate.
“The kids from Brazil they don’t celebrate Halloween and they were very intrigued,” she said. “They helped us hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.”
The students also participated in trick-or-treating, dressing up as a soccer referee and in ‘70s costumes.
In addition to welcoming students into their homes during holidays, Shields said she helped several students get their driver’s licenses. In many countries, the cost and requirements to be issued a license can be cost-inhibited for families, compared to obtaining a license in America, Shields said.
“I have helped four students get their driver’s licenses so far,” she said. “I think it was in Serbia where it costs over $1,000 to get your driver’s license. It made me realize how hard it is for them and all the training they have to do in Serbia and Brazil to get their license. I thought maybe we need more of that training, too.”
This Thanksgiving the Shields family will host five WNCC students, one German soccer player, three soccer players from Brazil and one basketball player from Serbia.
After becoming a dorm parent, Shields said she learned that the college’s cafeteria closes over the holidays, so she can help provide them with meals and a conversation, rather than the students eating alone in their dorm rooms.
In addition to sharing a meal, the Shields family said they take the student s to their farm so they can ride four wheelers and experience the hills and canyons nearby that they may not have in their countries. This Thanksgiving, after enjoying the meal, Shields said they plan to watch the World Cup, play video games on the Wii and Nintendo Switch.
“We like watching our kids learn about other cultures and learning from them,” she said.
Anyone interested in becoming involved as a dorm parent can contact WNCC’s student life department at 308-635-6050.