Cowichan International Student Program (CISP) is putting out the call for homestays in Lake Cowichan. The program, which started in Lake Cowichan 21 years ago, offers short term, one year one semester, and high school graduation programs to international students who wish to study abroad. CISP currently has 30 students that need homestay placements and “it would be nice to place some of them out there (in Lake Cowichan),” says Judy Hershman, vice principal of the program.
Hershman says it’s her job to match students with families and where a student is placed depends on common interests and compatibility. Those who are interested in welcoming a student into their home, need to be willing to incorporate the student into their life, be willing to share daily activities, and act as an ambassador for Canada. Students will need transportation to and from school and to other activities. They will need not only academic support, but also emotional support especially when feeling homesick.
All students who participate in the program are able to speak at least some English, and almost all will have studied English in their home country. Hershman says that homestay families play the role of teachers; they help students develop what she calls “functional literacy.” For example, homestay families help students deal with how to take the bus, do laundry, and participate in other aspects of Canadian culture.
There are currently 13 or 14 countries represented in the program with students coming from places like Japan and Mexico. Hershman says CISP tries to be balanced with this representation and that students come here for varying reasons. Many of them want to graduate from a Canadian high school (or earn their Dogwood degree) in order to have access to Canadian universities such as UBC, Simon Fraser, and UVic.
Though many of the students are of high school age, and thus do intend to graduate, Hershman says there is growing interest from families of international students who have children in the Grade 5-7 range. These students often come in groups with one or two chaperones who are boarded separately. Though families do not need to have children to be eligible as a homestay, there are often requests for families with school-age children.
If you are interested in becoming a homestay family, you can start the process by sending Hershman an email email@example.com, or by going to the website sd79.bc.ca/programs/international/index.php. She will then send you an application package. The package can be dropped off, completed, at her office. Criminal record checks are required for every member of your family 18 or older. Once this part of the process is complete, Hershman will contact you and set up a time for a homestay visit where she will go over responsibilities, make a note of pets (some kids love them, and others may have allergies) and talk to you about your interests and daily routine.
Homestay families are paid $800 a month, which includes the cost of food, snacks, and transportation. Students bring their own spending money. Homestay families are not expected to keep in touch with a student’s parents, but they are expected to keep in touch with teachers and monitor academic progress, keep the student on task, and be encouraging, just as they would with their own children.
Many families who have opened their homes to international students through programs such as CISP, have formed lasting relationships and are happy to know that they helped to provide a safe, inviting environment for international students to learn about Canada and benefit from attaining a Canadian education.