February 16, 2021
They started together and they are saying goodbye together: For two decades, Connie Bröker and Jutta Eckhoff have shaped the Host Family Program at Jacobs University Bremen. They have created connections between students from all over the world and families from Bremen and the surrounding area. These connections have often turned into lasting friendships. At the end of February, they will hand over the baton to Diana Wells, an alumna of Jacobs University and a former participant of the program, to enter a well-deserved retirement.
"Jacobs University's Host Family Program brings people together. The fact that it has become a success story is in large part thanks to the extraordinary commitment of Connie Bröker and Jutta Eckhoff," said Andrea Herzig-Erler, Managing Director of the international university in Bremen.
For Connie Bröker and Jutta Eckhoff, the farewell after 20 years is naturally connected with a little melancholy but above all with gratitude and pride in what has been achieved. "A lot of heart and soul has gone into the program," said Bröker. And Eckhoff added, "It was a great time and a lot of fun." More than 1,000 families and several thousand of Jacobs University’s students have been and continue to be part of the Host Family Program, which is based on hospitality, curiosity, and openness.
The international students are often separated from their families for the first time and have to gradually get to know life in a new country with a language they often do not yet understand. The host families help them. They take their students on excursions, organize game nights or cook together. Over the years, many friendships have developed. Host families have been invited to weddings or traveled to their student’s home countries. "It's always great to see how the Host Family Program enriches the lives of so many people," said Bröker.
The 65-year-old lives in the northern part of Bremen. In 2001, she read in a newspaper about the founding of the university, which was then called International University Bremen. She liked the idea of talented young people from different cultures living and studying together on one campus. "I wanted to be involved, to help the students, and to introduce them to our culture."
It was a similar story for 68-year-old Jutta Eckhoff, whose son Robert started studying Integrated Social Science at the English-speaking university in 2001. "Connie and I got along well right from the start. Quite independently, we often have the same ideas." And they complemented each other perfectly. While Jutta Eckhoff was more concerned with administration, Connie Bröker's enthusiasm sparked others' interest in the program.
The duo's commitment was recognized even in Berlin. The then Federal President Horst Köhler invited them to the summer festival at Bellevue Palace. Together, they were nominated for the Bremen Citizens' Prize.
A regular highlight for the two was also Jacobs University's annual graduation, often attended by the students' host families and parents. "That was always very impressive," Eckhoff recalled. And then there was the annual New Year's reception for the host parents, where they could exchange ideas and also establish contacts with each other.
Of course, Jutta Eckhoff and Connie Bröker were also host parents themselves. "My first student was Agnes from Kenya. She now lives in Stuttgart," said Bröker. Agnes was followed by students from India, the USA, Bolivia, Mexico, Nepal and Serbia. They are still in contact with most of their former host students today.
"The opportunity to put out feelers to other countries, to young people from another culture – that has always fascinated me at Jacobs University," said Connie Bröker. Jutta Eckhoff sees it the same way. The enthusiasm for the international campus university remains. Although the two are now retiring, they want to stay connected to Jacobs University. And, of course, they also want to follow the future of the Host Family Program. They are particularly happy that Diana Wells will continue the Host Family Program.
Diana Wells is an employee of Jacobs University and knows the program from her own student days. She herself studied International Logistics, Management and Engineering at Jacobs University and graduated in 2012. "The Host Family Program is very close to my heart. Through the program, I got to know my host family at the time, who I still consider part of my family today. I thank Connie Bröker and Jutta Eckhoff for setting the course for this very special program and am very excited to follow in their footsteps," Wells said.
For more information on the host family program: