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Host families needed
COVID had put the kibosh on physical attendance for the Nova Scotia International Student Program (NSISP) in the province for the 2020-2021 school year but representatives are hoping it will resume this fall.
If Public Health deems it safe, there will be eight tri-county schools welcoming international students: Digby High, St. Mary’s Bay, Yarmouth High, Maple Grove, Drumlin Heights, Barrington High, Shelburne High and Lockeport High.
Derek Lesser is hopeful. He's the NSISP director and coordinator for Community Learning and International Services for the Tri-County Regional Centre for Education.
“The program adds so much culture and diversity to our schools and allows our students to hear about topics from the point of view of someone from a different country,” he says.
He concedes that COVID will continue to bring about change in the future. When Covid hit last spring in Canada, a number of NSISP students decided to go home and continue studying “in Nova Scotia” through virtual courses.
Nine students in the tri-counties stayed in the province for the summer to guarantee they could continue studying this year. They were monitored closely to make sure they were following all Public Health guidelines.
Although program representatives planned on welcoming students this past summer, Public Health did not allow students in. Planning started for a second semester arrival for this school year, but again there was no approval.
Lesser understands the safety precaution.
“We’re fortunate in Nova Scotia to have very tight rules around COVID. These have helped keep our numbers very low. We’ll only be accepting students again when it’s completely safe to do so.”
Normally there would be 150 to 170 NSISP students in the region. Lesser says they are in a position to grow the program regionally when the time is right.
“We have set a goal to bring in 190 students this upcoming school year if the Public Health guidelines and epidemiology allow. To do this we will need about 40 new homes. Homes can be very different formats. We find seniors are often excellent hosts."
Lesser says almost all provinces accepted high school international students this past year except Nova Scotia. University students were able to come to N.S.
He says the NSISP has strict guidelines for when students are able to come. They will not be going to communities until it’s been established they don’t have COVID.
“This can be achieved by 14-day hotel quarantines at the airport, vaccinations before they travel to Canada, on-site rapid testing and/or a combination of all of these," he says. “Public Health will only allow students to come here once they know if is completely safe to do so."
HOST FAMILIES REQUIRED
When international students are permitted in the province, host families will be required.
Although the program has accepted some elementary students in the past, only Grades 7 to 12 will be allowed to start in the beginning.
Host parents can request students from a country they might prefer. Many of those who have hosted students before have heart-warming experiences.
Lesser says there are many amazing stories they hear from families.
“Many of our host families end up going on vacation to see their student’s natural family. In many cases, our host parents are treated like royalty and pay very little for this trip," he says.
“I have personally experienced this. The students that arrive in our homes and live with us become family and we never lose touch with them,” he says.
In a few cases, there are stories of Canadian host parents going to the international student’s wedding in their country and walking them down the aisle alongside of the natural parents.
“The relationships formed are that incredible. There are families that have hosted three siblings in different years from the same family,” he says.
The program’s focus is to find quality host families that can build relationships with students.
Psychological impacts are also taken into consideration. Home sickness can happen when international students arrive and supports are in place for this.
"Most students find that returning home is much more of a culture shock because they feel that, in their time here, they have become 'Canadian’,” says Lesser.
Most students arrive with some English background but almost all leave speaking English very well. They are immersed full time in Canadian culture and language and usually pick up English skills “very fast.”
Lesser admits that there are new host families that have a fear of having someone live in their home for a few months or longer – will they be a good host family?
“This fear goes away usually on day two, once the student settles in, gives you special gifts from their country and starts sharing their culture with you.”
The NSISP economic spinoff for the province is around $30 million per year. International students pay to study here and the sum covers the cost of school, the fees that host parents get for hosting, and all spending money they bring with them.
Host parents are reimbursed $580/month per student for providing a room and meals to the students. Activities that students choose to do on their own comes from their own spending money. Lots of families like to host two students at a time.
Lesser says NSISP has a great partnership with Atlantic universities.
“Many of our NSISP grads choose to stay in Nova Scotia for university or college," he says. "Many end up applying to become Canadian citizens over time. This adds so much to our work force.”
If interested in learning more about hosting, email Derek Lesser can be reached by email.