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March 2, 2012 10:51 AM

Providing the comforts of home to international students

For their home away from home, many of Conestoga’s international students choose homestay, which offers home cooking, a chance to practise English conversation and the experience of warm Canadian hospitality.

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According to Conestoga’s International Office, the goal of homestay program is to create an enriching, rewarding and educational experience for both students and their host families. Students stay with their host families at least two months, with most choosing to stay four to six months. Some students form a close attachment with their host families and might stay for years. Many students, especially those from China, Japan and Korea, are in the English Language Studies program, but international students in degree programs can also choose homestay.

As Conestoga’s enrolment of international students continues to grow, the college’s International Office is seeking new families to participate in the homestay program.  Office personnel work with both the family and the student to ensure a comfortable match.

Ideally, families should live within a 45-minute bus ride of the campus. While the international education office provides opportunities for sightseeing trips to Toronto and Niagara Falls for students, they encourage host families to share other outdoor activities and local tourism with their students, and learn about other cultures. This might mean helping a student prepare a meal native to their culture - and eating it too!

Currently there are about 50 host families, but more are needed. The program accommodates vacations, so families can take a break from homestay when they choose. Host "families" vary widely, from traditional two-parent homes, to singles and seniors. What they all have in common is a willingness to share their homes and their experiences with students who are new to Canada.

Sherry Hunt Attwooll, who’s served as a homestay host for three years, enjoys the life that students bring to her house after her husband died. “It keeps me young,” she said. She had her house renovated to fit three guests and said she’ll continue doing homestay “forever.” She encourages students to invite their friends over and hosts barbecues in the summer. She said the students she’s had were “all very happy.”

Right now she has two students from China and one from Russia. She tries to get students from three different countries when it’s possible, because it means in order to communicate with each other, they have to practise speaking English. In spite of their differences, students from very different cultures often end up becoming friends.

Attwooll said families do not have to feel that sit-down meals are necessary every night. All that they need to do is have food available. But this doesn’t mean leaving students to fend for themselves. She stressed that it’s important to “be there for them.” She takes this time during the morning drive to school.

Tsegya Edleev, a student from Russia in the Electronics Engineering Technology - Telecommunications Systems program, has been staying with Attwooll since September. When asked about his favourite part of homestay, he quickly answered, “the food,” but also mentioned the ride to school, Attwooll’s dog, Internet access and the “nice neighbourhood with a movie theatre and market” nearby as other perks.

Host families are paid $700 per month and are expected to provide, according to manager of International Education Anita Couto, “three meals a day, standard Internet access, and a private bedroom with a desk.”

According to an ad which circulated last year, “Being a host family to one of Conestoga College’s international students is a rewarding experience,” and families can “gain valuable insights into other cultures while your international student develops a better understanding of Canada, the English language and our lifestyles.”

In homestay, students can have the comforts of home but can experience new things, and for many, this is an ideal combination.

Families and individuals interested in homestay can call Couto at 519-748-5220, ext. 3698.

Story by Elissa Den Hoed , second-year student in Conestoga's Print-Journalism program.

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