Claiming to have 18 daughters is normally the stuff of reality television, but Jiri and Donna Rozporka have had that parental role, of sorts, away from TV land for years.
The Rozporkas, who live in Transcona, have been involved in the River East Transcona School Division’s Homestay program for seven years, first hosting a student from Germany – eventually attending her high school graduation abroad.
The couple, who don’t have children of their own, has also gone to Brazil and South Korea to visit those who have lived in their home.
They are currently hosting Grade 11 student Ann-Katrin Albers from Haren, Germany and Grade 12 student Helene Ribeiro from Brasília, Brazil. Both attend Transcona Collegiate Institute.
"After our very first ‘hello’ through email, we just feel like they’re part of our family," said Donna. "We have tons of contact with them even before they come."
The Rozporkas agree the girls they’ve hosted have kept them opening their doors year after year, citing their bravery for coming to a new school in a new country.
"They’re really amazing people, and if you let them, they touch you in a way that you never expected to be touched," she said. "If you don’t think of them as your own kids or as part of your family, then you might not feel the same way that we feel."
The Rozporkas look to give their guests a true Canadian prairie experience, as they’ll go tobogganing, skating, and take trips to places like Narcisse, Lac du Bonnet, and Kenora.
"I have really good friends and I’ve had a really good time here," added Albers, who performed with TCI’s dance club. "I come from a small village and everybody knows everybody, so it was a big step for me to be away from my family and be independent."
Gaining independence was also one of the reasons Ribeiro wanted to come to Winnipeg — she said she’d never taken public transit before coming to Winnipeg.
"I always had my parents or someone to take me where I want," she said. "Now I know how to go everywhere by myself... I think I’m actually going to miss the bus."
Ribeiro, who will attend Universidade de Brasília and hopes to eventually go to medical school, isn’t the only previous Rozporka guest to gain an affinity for Winnipeg Transit, who provided one student with a replica of the local bus stop.
"At first she wanted me to go unbolt it and steal it," recalled Jiri. "I would do anything for you, but I don’t want to go to jail."
RETSD international education Homestay facilitator Kirsten Ramsay said the division hosts approximately 150 students each semester.
"We’re always looking for families," she said. "We’re always try to find the best fit for the student and the family."
Ramsay explained potential families fill out detailed profiles when applying to help find that match.
"We do want to create the bonds like we have right here," said Ramsay of the Rozporkas. "We want to know what works well in their family.
"It’s a learning experience for both parties."
The school division is seeking Homestay families for the 2013-14 school year. Those looking for more information or to register can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 204-667-7130.