A warm Canadian welcome to our international guests

International homestays for students are a big business that brings revenues to local school boards

The Farmer and I have prepared our spare rooms for two special guests on the farm. We have two international students staying with us for the school year.

In the past, we’ve hosted students both short and long term from China, Spain, Colombia and Brazil. This year, our students are coming from Norway and Nigeria. We’re one of dozens of host families in Leeds Grenville, and thousands across the country.

Mina is a 17-year-old from a small town called Nittedal, 30 minutes from Oslo by train. She likes arts and crafts, outdoor activities, family gatherings and trips to the cottage. She’s looking forward to experiencing what it is to be Canadian and she hopes to see a game of hockey. I think we can help her out there.

I’m happy to see she didn’t put a lot of computer activity on her list of favourite things because what’s the point of visiting a new country if you never leave the computer room?

Mina is accustomed to a snowy winter but she has yet to encounter the Canadian cold. I’m hoping our season isn’t too severe so we can enjoy it on the Quebec ski slopes and the ice of the Rideau Canal.

Rebecca is coming to Canada from Nigeria. I don’t have a lot of information on her yet, except that her real name is Oghenetga. I will have to get some help on that pronunciation.

Of course, with all of the turmoil being caused by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram in her home country, we’re wondering what her life has been like. Local town councillor Frank Onasanya also hails from Nigeria and he says he can tell by Rebecca’s family name that she likely comes from the west of the country. Most of the attacks by Boko Haram have reportedly been in the northeast, but you never get the full story from a news report.

We look forward to learning more about Rebecca and her life in Nigeria when she arrives. At the moment, she’s having problems getting a visa.

I remember some of the international students who came to my high school in the 1980s. It seems like they were here for longer than just the school year, they made such an impression.

Vivi from Sweden was a tall, vivacious blonde who laughingly refused to adopt the North American custom of wearing a sports bra while playing volleyball. Spectator attendance rose significantly when Vivi was on the court. She had such a positive, effervescent spirit and a beaming smile.

There was a little French girl named Claude from Belgium who rocked the small town of Kemptville with her fashion sense. She was quiet and perhaps a bit homesick, since I think her English wasn’t very advanced and it left her feeling a bit left out. She made a small circle of good friends during her stay, however, and will be remembered for her smooth moves on the dance floor (along with her awesome collection of boots and mini-skirts).

Carlos from Mexico came to stay one year and very quickly became another member of his local host family. Tall, dark and handsome, he was athletic, smart and very popular with all of us.

My memories of the international students from my youth are what make me want to host students today. Unlike the Rotary Youth Exchange program, however, today’s international homestay business is just that – a big business that brings revenues to local school boards.

My husband and I have learned to ask a lot of questions when preparing to host – because we want to ensure the student actually wants to be here to experience a new culture and way of life.

In the past, we’ve hosted some students who clearly were sent here against their will by their parents. In some cases, the parents even send a huge deposit to their child’s bank account every month, in preparation for their own eventual arrival in the country. We didn’t become hosts for that purpose.

I’m still in touch with some of our past foreign house guests on social media. It’s my hope that we remain connected in the future, so I can see where they go in life.

And who knows? Maybe someday the Farmer and I will visit some of them in their homelands.

Troy Media columnist Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.


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