International Student Welcome Event held in 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent).

International students live out movie moments while visiting

As more families within Chatham-Kent open their homes to international students, more children from around the globe are getting to experience things they wouldn’t normally get to in their home country.

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent will host the fourth annual International Student Welcome Event at Kingston Park in Chatham on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Victoria Bodnar, the coordinator of resident attraction and retention, said by partnering with the local public school board and the Canada Homestay Network, approximately 200 students from countries such as China, Spain, Taiwan, India, and Belgium are attending schools within the Lambton-Kent District School Board.

“The excitement of our community to welcome them has been something that has been pretty consistent so we’re always happy to see that and to see the international students thriving and getting connected to the community while they’re here,” said Bodnar.

Courtney Ouellette, the relationship manager with Canada Homestay Network, said students visiting the area typically grow such strong bonds with the community and their host families, that it becomes sad to say “goodbye” at the end of the study period.

“It’s such an exciting time for them to come to Canada to study and get the education and experience while they’re here,” said Oulette. “But when they return home at the end of the study period, it’s such a hard and difficult time for them to leave because they feel like they’re leaving their second family.”

Study periods vary from just a few weeks to a whole academic year. In terms of cultural benefits, Oulette said a lot of the feedback from international students has to do with festive events celebrated in Canada.

“A lot of the feedback we get from students is typically around our holiday seasons — especially Halloween. It’s such a novelty time of the year for international students because the culture is so different and typically the different international cultures don’t celebrate the holidays like we do,” said Oulette. “A lot of the students will say their experience is like the movies … that’s how they feel their experience is because it’s amazing and nothing they ever imagined before until they’re actually here.”

The municipality does partner with other schools and organizations for similar programs, and Bodnar said in each case, interest from both international students and host families continues to grow.

“Everyone we have heard from — particularly at these international student events or throughout the year, they really enjoy the experience,” said Bodnar. “Families are eager to welcome new students year over year.”

In terms of what the community gains through these types of programs, Bodnar said it helps create relationships and cross-cultural learning experiences.

“Certainly having more people here helps fulfil a lot of our talent needs and in the long-term strategy, helps people get connected and hopefully make Chatham-Kent their home,” she said. “Having these international students come and share their experiences and their skillset with us is a benefit to the entire community — in the classrooms and our community clubs.”

Residents interested in becoming a host family for an international student are encouraged to visit the Canada Homestay Network’s website. Oulette said there are requirements to being a host family and allowances to help offset the expenses of hosting an international student. Details about the program can be found here.