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Giving Foreign Students a Home Away From Home

30 Oct 2008

Nanyang Girls' Foster Parents

Vietnamese student Han Giang (centre) with her Singapore foster parents Mr and Mrs Samuel Tan.

Arriving in a new country means a new school and new friends. But a new family?

"When I first heard about the Foster Parents programme at Nanyang Girls' High School, I could not help but be sceptical," recalls Le Nguyet Han Giang. But soon after the Vietnamese national arrived in Singapore in January 2007, Han Giang was happy to cast aside her doubts and warm up to her new family of foster parents, "Uncle Samuel Tan and Aunty Soon Yin", and her foster siblings, Joshua, Beatrice and Hongjie.

Nanyang Girls' High School initiated the Foster Parents scheme in 2000 "to provide foreign students a home away from home," explains teacher-in-charge Mdm Tye Seck Moy. "The foster parents help to monitor their charges' results and general well-being, and assist them to assimilate into the school and Singapore environment."

Nanyang Girls' Foster Parents

Foster families and children enjoy an outing-cum-picnic at Labrador Park.

The foster moms and dads consist of parents of students in the Nanyang family. "The programme has been very well received, with several foster families requesting to 'adopt' more than one child," says Mdm Tye. Many families even ask to remain in the programme after their own children have left the school.

"The parents also volunteer to share their experience with new foster parents, and help recruit new parents," adds Mdm Tye. Last year, 37 families - all volunteers - were involved in the programme.

Learning to live together

Han Giang is the first adopted child of Mr and Mrs Samuel Tan, who learnt about the scheme from fellow parents who shared about their experience. "Initially, we were a bit concerned about over-stepping our boundaries as foster parents," shares Mr Tan.

However, the Tans and their three children soon settled into their new role. "We treat Han Giang as our family member, and we spend time together at home, go out for meals, movies and attended her concert performance," says Mr Tan. "We also hosted her family when they visited Singapore."

What does it take to be a foster parent? "It's a huge commitment," acknowledges Mr Tan. "You have to be hospitable, be willing to invest the time, and be open to different cultures."

Mr Tan suggests that foster parents "strive to be a friend" instead of simply telling the child what to do. "Don't encroach on her privacy, but always make yourself available when you are needed," he advises. "Don't impose your views but be ready to give honest advice or feedback, even if you know it's not going to be well received."

This act of generosity goes much further than just their family. "Hopefully, with the kindness we have extended to her, she will extend the same to others when the opportunity arises in future," states Mr Tan, who also keeps in close contact with Han Giang's parents in Vietnam to ensure that her welfare is fully taken care of.

Nanyang Girls' Foster Parents

Nanyang foster families hold a farewell party for their Sec 4 'foster' children.

Passing on the kindness

On her part, Han Giang had wondered how far such a 'man-made and 'unnatural' relationship could go." It was "almost like matchmaking," she laughs. But her suspicions were soon dispelled by the strong bonds she formed with the Tans, who touched the Sec 4 student greatly with their kindness.

"Every time I thank them for the things they did or the times we went out together, they would tell me the same thing - 'Just make sure you pass on the love and kindness to others," shares Han Giang. "I believe this sentiment is largely shared among all foster parents who volunteer to adopt us."

For the Tans, the joy of opening their home and hearts to a young guest from abroad has been reward enough. For their experience as foster parents has been so fulfilling that Mr Tan declares, "We are prepared to be Han Giang's foster parents as long as she is in Singapore."