Shortage of B.C. host families ‘a challenge’ for international students

Imagine you’re a young student coming to a foreign country to study and live with a local family, and you arrive to find there’s no one ready to take you in.

That was the situation for some who want to go to school on the North Shore.

“This year has been harder, even harder than last year,” said Cheryl Lee, chief operating officer for the Muskoka Language Institute (MLI), an international student placement service.

“We have all of our students in homestays now, so we are not in a respite situation, but there were a few of the students who arrived in August for a September 7th start that had their first few days of their arrival not in a permanent homestay,” Lee told CityNews.

“There were a number of situations in the last weeks leading up to the start of school where we were wishing we had more families to help us out. We are having to be creative in working with partners and school boards to find solutions to make sure that every student could come to Canada on their scheduled time. There were some students across Canada who did defer and will come in February.”

Inflation, work from home, higher costs

Lee says they have another group of 70 Japanese students coming for a short-term stay in North Vancouver in just a few weeks. They’re still in need homes — at least 35 families — calling the situation a difficult challenge.

“It’s the culmination of increases in the cost of living, many people still working from home so they don’t have the same space in their house, or maybe they have downsized so they don’t have that extra bedroom to host a young person.”

She also points to family members moving home, perhaps aging parents or children who have chosen to study remotely or at post secondary schools closer to where they live because of increasing costs or the potential for pandemic disruptions.

“And maybe there’s still some hangover from COVID, people are still a little nervous about bringing someone into their home,” she said.

Incentives for hosts

Whatever the reason, companies like MLI and others are doing everything they can to recruit host families, including raising the fees for room and board and offering incentives for referrals.

“We’ve all done a huge range of things to try to make it spark for new hosts as well as to make it work for existing hosts. We do a lot of work on social media, we do as much as we can in person, just chatting with folks. We’ve reached out to community clubs, to church groups, to synagogues, to any group that meets regularly to ask if they would share the word,” Lee told CityNews, adding they have even gone door-to-door and used lawn signs.

“The truth is, it has really been a challenge to manage the process of finding great people to host students and there is an assumption that a family unit of two parents, two children, and a dog is the perfect host. Yes, on paper that might be a perceived ‘best’ from someone coming from overseas, but all shapes and sizes of family unit are perfect as long as their heart is in the right place and they have the space and time to give a student.”

Lee encourages anyone interested to reach out by emailing or applying online.

“We are here to answer your questions.”

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