As back-to-school time gets closer, an urgent plea is being put out for host families for international students in several parts of the Lower Mainland, including North Vancouver, Burnaby and Vancouver.
After more than two years of pandemic travel restrictions, teens from many parts of the globe are keen to experience high school in Canada before they graduate, said Cheryl Lee, chief operating officer of MLI – one of two companies that arrange homestays for international students in North Vancouver.
But changes during the pandemic mean there are often fewer host families to go around.
In some cases, locals are still working from home, with home offices occupying spaces that might previously have been an available bedroom, said Lee. In other cases, adult children or elderly parents are living in the family home, or families remain cautious while COVID-19 is still a concern.
Local families are also opting to travel more – making it harder to commit to staying put during the school year, said Lee.
There’s also more competition for host families. Many language schools that cater to post-secondary students weren’t operating during COVID but are now back up and running, said Lee.
Finally, inflation that has sent food prices skyrocketing could give some people pause when considering another mouth to feed, Lee acknowledged.
Host families are paid an amount to cover costs (which typically ranges from $800 to $1,500, depending on the school community).
This year, North Vancouver is expecting to host approximately 530 fee-paying international students – the same number as last year.
This week, MLI was still looking for host families for five students expected to arrive in North Vancouver in the next week to 10 days, as well as five in Burnaby and more then seven in Vancouver.
In North Vancouver, the need for host families is particularly keen in the Seycove, Argyle and Sutherland areas, added Lee.
With many in-person events still on hold, Lee said her company has relied on everything from going door-to-door to setting up in mall parking lots to get the word out.
Host families can come in many shapes and sizes, including single adults, young couples without kids, and empty nesters whose children are already grown, said Lee. But the host must be more than 25 years of age and willing to take on a parental-type role for international students who come to stay with them.
“These are minors. They are kids. It’s not room and board. It’s not room without board," she said. “It’s very much a family. It’s very much people that are there to act in that caring family mode while a teen is here in Canada.”
International students heading to the North Shore are typically 15-17 and are “pretty independent cool young people,” said Lee.
One of the changes that’s happened since the pandemic is that more international students are coming from Europe – especially Germany, Italy and Spain, said Lee – while fewer are coming from China, which has been subject to more COVID lockdowns.
About 400 international students will also be landing in West Vancouver soon, said Tricia Buckley, spokeswoman for the West Vancouver School District.
In West Vancouver – where the school district handles its own homestay program directly – administrators started searching for homestay families back in March, said Buckley, and cut off admissions early, to be sure of having enough homestay families willing to host students.
Most families who’ve hosted international students find it incredibly rewarding, said Lee, with bonds that often continue for years after the student returns to their home country.
In find out more about becoming a host family in North Vancouver, contact the North Vancouver School District here. Families can also contact MLI directly at MLIhomestay.com. To find out about hosting international students in West Vancouver, contact the West Vancouver School District.