New Plymouth mum reunites with five German ‘daughters’

A New Plymouth woman has had the trip of a lifetime reuniting with her five German ‘daughters’.

Lyn McDonald has been a “crazy host mother” to Spotswood College International students for the last two and a half years.

In that time she has opened her home and her heart to teenagers from all over the world, including Brazil, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Germany. 

Last month it was her turn to travel when she embarked on her first solo trip overseas, to visit the five German girls who had lived with her at different times.

She spent two and a half weeks in Germany, being “passed like a parcel” from Anna in Hamburg to Maria in Halle to Patrizia in Darmstadt to Karoline in Berlin and finally to Anne in Potsdam.

A special welcome to Germany from Maria

Now young women aged between 18 and 21, they were all delighted to see Lyn. She stayed in their families’ homes, with most of their parents taking time off work to spend time with the woman they had entrusted their daughters to.

“I was treated like royalty. They enjoyed that their child came to a place where they were happy and had a good time and did crazy things. They call me the crazy host mother. We climbed Paritutu twice in a day because we didn’t get good photos, we would have fish and chips down at Back Beach watching the sunset, go for walks in the dark.”

Lyn became a host parent after the last of her children moved out. Living alone a stone’s throw from the Coastal Walkway, she had two spare bedrooms and spare bikes in the shed so thought ‘why not?’.

“They’re fun. They keep me young,” she says.

“I’m not their mum, I’m their host mum which is a bit different. We can have a lot deeper, closer conversations. They tell me things that they sometimes never tell their parents.”

Seeing the sights with Anne

She says being a host mum has made her more outgoing and appreciate New Zealand more. In the holidays she takes her students away, including visiting her own children in Wellington and Auckland. 

She jokes the only downside is having to drag herself out of bed on a Saturday morning to take them to netball or picking them up and ending up with a carful of kids wanting a ride home.

“But it’s just like with your own kids. You’ve got to get out and take them places. It’s all good.”

Lyn often hosts two girls at a time, through Spotswood and Sacred Heart Girls’ College. Their stays have ranged from a few weeks to nine months and there have been some sad farewells: “I’m a baby. I always cry.”

Catching up with Karoline in Berlin

Lyn has kept in touch with most of them via social media, and she’ll often pop down to the walkway to Snapchat them a photo of the sea.

Anna is returning to New Plymouth to spend Christmas with Lyn – “she wants to have New Year’s at Oakura Beach with her friends” – and she has no doubt she will see the others again. 

Spotswood College International Administrator and Home Stay Manager Janet Wrightson-Lean says Lyn’s story is typical of the lifelong connections often formed between host families and their students.

Spotswood hosts up to 25 international students at any one time. They generally stay for anywhere from one month to a year and are from a mix of countries.

She says Spotswood, like other secondary schools in Taranaki, is always looking for people keen to welcome a student into their home.  

If you would like to find out more about becoming a host family contact Janet Wrightson-Lean on 021 256 6533 or email jle@spotswoodcollege.school.nz.

Words by Katie Holland