On July 26, Penticton will be receiving 24 guest students from Japan’s Shiba High School. The students, 16 and 17-year-old Japanese boys, are here for two weeks to immerse themselves in Canadian culture and hone their English skills. While there’s only one problem facing them, it’s a doozy: they don’t have anywhere to stay.
Meghan Jones, a spokesperson for the Muskoka Language International’s homestay program, said the long-running program within Penticton is facing a shortage of host families. The shortage, Jones said, is due to families growing older, and not enough community members being aware of the program to fill the void.
The homestay program brings a group of international students to all over Canada to truly experience Canadian living. During the day, the students go to English-as-second-language classes, but the heart of the experience is really out of the classroom, where the students interact with their host families, building relationships and sharing one another’s culture, said Jones.
“Each student gets their own unique experience, just as the students are going to be individuals and different with different families, so everyone kind of has this unique family kind of fun experience,” she said.
While the program is designed for the students, it’s also the families who benefit from the exchange, said Lisa Eaton, Penticton’s homestay co-ordinator.
“I’m getting very positive feedback on how, in thinking that they’re giving over to an exchange student, they’re realizing that in the end they’re getting just as much back by the friendships that are formed, with many of them saying this is now a lasting friendship,” she said.
Heidi Roblesky was a host for a Japanese homestay student named Haruki last year, and plans to be one again this year. She said she agrees that the relationships built through the program are well worth any extra effort.
“I think the biggest thing that we got was friendship, it was so nice to exchange with someone from a different part of the world. Lots of humour, we all had a lot of fun with him, because he wasn’t afraid to try to speak English. We still keep in contact through letters,” she said.
Roblesky recommended the program to other families, saying it was a great experience for her and her family.
Despite the overwhelming positivity of the experience, this year’s program is still 20 families short. Eaton attributed this to how far in advance families need to plan to host a student.
However, Jones remained optimistic the families would be found.
“Oh, we’re going to find them,” she said. “We find them, even if it comes down to the last day and we’re knocking on people’s doors.”
For more information on the MLI homestay program, visit www.mliesl.com, or if you’re interested in becoming a host family, contact Lisa Horton at 250-462-7997.