Jungho Park searches for words to describe the rewards of coming to Vancouver. He counts them off with his fingers, “English, my girlfriend and friends—that’s what Vancouver gave me.”
It is a cold, crisp Sunday afternoon and Jungho, Hyekyung and Mijin are enjoying coffee and each other’s company. All three left the security and familiarity of Korea for an international education, proficiency in the English language and the lasting experience of travel. Canada is a destination for students from around the world; the majority hails from various parts of Asia. Canadian tuition and the general cost of living are considerably less expensive for international students than in other English speaking countries.
For Hyekyung, who aspires to a career in film and computer animation, it was Canada’s extensive range of studies that brought her here. After discovering the Vancouver Film School and CDIS (Center for Digital Imaging and Sound), she chose Vancouver.
Leaving The Comforts Of Home
While a Canadian education can be an excellent opportunity for international students, leaving home to study in a strange culture and new language can be scary. Enter homestay.
A homestay program matches local families with international students. Although the students pay fees for room and board, homestay is meant to offer the students a home away from home, an opportunity to assimilate into a Canadian family and a way to improve language skills outside the classroom.
According to David Chen, of Douglas College’s Homestay Program, the comfort of a family structure is important. “We’re talking about 18 or 19 year olds getting to a new environment where a new language is spoken and they’re definitely very vulnerable and emotional.”
Being A Homestay Host
Hosting an international student is a way for an entire family to learn about another culture without leaving home. Virginia Fuller, a homestay host since 1996, has another incentive. “I enjoy having someone to take care of. My own daughter is grown. Hosting a student is kind of like having another daughter.”
Most programs require the host family to provide the student with a private room with a desk and bed, three meals a day, access to shared facilities and an orientation to the area. As important as these things are, what sets homestay apart is the commitment of time and companionship.
Sometimes students become possessive of their families. Donalyn Simpson, of Langara College’s Homestay Program, relates a story of one student who gave a family a rating of 100 on a scale of one to 10 on their post-program evaluation. After such a high rating, Donalyn was surprised that the student answered no to the question “would you recommend your host family?” When asked why, the student exclaimed, “Because they are my host family!”