Anthem mom Celina Hayes fell in love with France as a high-school exchange student. Today, she’s the director of Bonjour Phoenix — a three-week program in which Arizona families volunteer to host French students. She’s currently looking for 15 host families for July 6-27.
Hayes says hosting is a blast, and kids and families reap lifelong benefits from making connections with friends across the ocean. “It’s a smaller commitment for host families,” she explains, comparing Bonjour Phoenix to other programs. “The students and the families who host really get to bond and spend time as a family, all while the student gets a true English-immersion experience.”
Her family has hosted several times, and last year was a highlight. “Nic Maurer was our student, and it literally felt like he was a missing piece of our family,” she says. “The timing was perfect for hosting, because France was in the World Cup finals. We were able to coordinate a few game-viewing parties with several other families who were hosting students. … It was so awesome to experience the thrill of the games with those kids and to celebrate an epic win” for France.
We asked Hayes how to know if your family is a good fit for a stay-at-home international adventure.
What qualities are you looking for in host families? Primarily, we want fun and active families. We want people who really want to welcome the student into their own family. Each student sends along a few pictures showcasing his/her family and interests, as well as a letter sharing what they enjoy and why they want to have this experience. The host family gets to read several of these letters, and they make the final decision on who they feel would be the best fit.
Does the host family need to speak French? Not at all! The goal for these students is to immerse themselves in English for three weeks. Many of the students have had five-plus years of English, and they desire to really become proficient. If the host family does speak some French, it’s just fun to get the rust off and use it a bit.
Should the host family have teenagers? It’s not necessary, but families with children/teens make great host families. They usually are involved in lots of activities, and that makes for an excellent experience for our students. When we first hosted, our children were 12, 10 and 7. Our host “son” was 15. They all had a blast. Louis-Raphael was the youngest child in his family, and both of his brothers were off at college. He loved the change of being in a family with siblings at home and getting to try out being a “big brother.”
Do you require one stay-at-home parent? The preference would be to have at least one work-at-home or stay-at-home parent. In a home with no kids, we would want at least one person home most of the time, so the student isn’t left alone. What fun would that be? Older students often enjoy the one-on-one that they can get from an active empty-nest home. When families without children apply, we look for those who enjoy getting out and about and would like to invest time into showing the student around.
What’s a recommended itinerary? We have had host families who love horseback riding and have brought their students with them. Our family loves day trips, dining out and seeing the sights. We went to Montezuma’s Castle, San Diego, a Diamondbacks game and a preseason Coyotes hockey game. Funny thing is, our students were wowed at the little things we took them to, like Costco, Walmart, Cabela’s and any restaurant that had unlimited fries or soda refills!
What did your family learn from hosting an exchange student? We wanted our kids to think about life beyond their little corner of the world, to make friendships, to open their lives up to new people and learn from them. They have made friends for a lifetime. We still Skype regularly with our previous host students. [In 2017] we actually took all of our kids on a trip to France, and we were invited to stay with the families of our host students. It’s been beautiful to see our own children embracing another culture and its people. They have a real and tangible connection to a world across an ocean. That’s priceless!
Interested in hosting? Contact Celina Hayes at 815-979-8216 or visit bonjourphoenix.com