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South Valley Journal

Hosting teachers a huge benefit to dual-immersion students

Oct 05, 2017 12:57PM ● By Jet Burnham

Alyssa and Sunny Sokol benefit from a close relationship with a native Chinese speaker living in their home. (courtesy Kristin Sokol)

Kristin Sokol was so happy when she heard her daughters fighting with each other-—because without even realizing it, they were arguing in Chinese. It’s one of the perks of hosting a native speaking teacher in their home. 

“It’s a real advantage to have the teacher living with us,” said Sokol. 

The Sokols have opened their home to some of the Chinese teachers who teach at Foothills Elementary. The teachers live in their home, eat dinner with them, play with them and even go on vacations with them. And the whole time, Sokol’s daughters, who are in the Dual Language Immersion Program at Foothills, are learning more and more Chinese.

 “It is mind-boggling to hear your children speak in another language and laugh and carry on and play games and you don’t understand a word,” said Sokol.

The teachers tell jokes and play games with the girls, exposing them to the kind of casual interactions they don’t get in school. Sokol said the teachers speak almost exclusively Chinese with the girls and English with her and her husband. They rely on the girls, who are in fourth and sixth grade, to translate when the adults hit a language barrier.

The Sokols have been hosting teachers for several years. Teachers stay in their home between one and three years. 

“It’s like seeing the world through new eyes, because they’re very excited about every little thing,” Sokol said. They are amazed at the size of the Sokols’ house, the amount of food in their pantry and the size of their minivan. The teacher they are currently hosting is embracing American food-—she takes pictures of almost every meal and is very impressed when they bake a cake.

“Everything is a ‘wow’ moment, every flavor is exciting and every meal is exciting,” said Sokol.  

The Sokols’ reaction to Chinese food is the same.

“They just cook really interesting things that you would never cook,” said Sokol, who has encountered a bucket of raw fish in the kitchen and octopus tentacles hanging out the sides of a pan.

The teachers are excited about the new experiences they encounter living here. Their reactions make the Sokols realize how great their everyday life is.

“We don’t think about those things that they definitely notice,” she said. “Our life is easy.”

The teachers are amazed by the open spaces and large homes we have here. 

“In China, everything is so confined, and there are so many people, and the air is not clean, and they can’t see the sun—ever,” said Sokol. The teachers are not used to seeing the sun, which is blocked by tall buildings and thick smog in China.

Living here has also provided them their first opportunity to see stars.

“I’ve never seen such exuberance,” Sokol said when the teachers were able to see the Milky Way for the first time.

“They’d heard about it, they’d seen it on science shows, but they’d never seen stars like that in their whole life,” she said. They were so overwhelmed; they were unable put together any sentences in English to express themselves.

As the self-appointed host family coordinator and Chinese teacher liaison, Sokol manages a network of families who regularly host teachers at Foothills Elementary. 

“I feel like this is the very least I can do because my kids are learning this foreign language-—for free,” said Sokol.

She said there is always a need for more host families.

 “I wish people would be more open to sharing their homes and their lives for a school year or even a few weeks,” she said. Often, all the teachers need is a family to help for their first few months in the country as they set up a bank account, find lodging and transportation, etc.

“The families that host always love it,” she said. 

Sokol feels it is an eye-opening experience to see your culture through a foreigner’s eyes and come to realize how amazing the simple things really are.