Comox homestay host helps international students immerse in Canadian culture

Phyllis Katcher, a Comox-based international student homestay host (pictured in the foreground above with Orion, from Mexico, Wangjun (Austin), from China, and her wife Laurie), says she first saw the positive effects of travelling and living with local families during her son’s post-secondary education. “I always told myself I would repay the kindness of those families who supported my son by doing the same for someone else,” Phyllis says. “When I became an empty nester, the timing was right to become a homestay host.”

Phyllis’s son is now a red-seal chef working in Vancouver. He learned a big part of his trade living and working on farms to learn how organic food is produced as part of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) movement. For international students, immersion in Canadian culture is just as important, adding a valuable dimension to their time studying in Canada.

“My students aren’t just renting a room. They’re getting me and my friends and family, too.”
–Phyllis Katcher

Over the past 12 years, Phyllis has helped more than 10 North Island College international students, from places like Mexico, Japan, Zimbabwe, and China, adapt to life in Canada by being a Canadian ambassador, tour guide, and friend through homestay. She started out slow with a six-week placement, and has moved on to full-year programs, sometimes hosting multiple students at a time. When it comes to getting used to Canada, she says, the bulk of the culture shock – both good and bad – happens right when they arrive.

“On one hand is the cold temperatures, which can be very hard on them. Before they get here, I describe the weather and the types of clothes they’ll need so they can prepare,” Phyllis says. “On the other hand, there’s the natural beauty of the Island that I love to share. Every student comments how fresh the air is.”

Phyllis says that despite the excitement of a new country, school and home, it can be easy for students to want to revert to their routines from back home or hide away in their rooms.

“They’re here to get an education, but also to learn about Canada. They won’t get that without seeing and experiencing things for themselves. We go to BBQs and go camping. I say, ‘We’re going on such and such day, put it in your calendar.’” Even if the students are nervous at first, Phyllis says, they always appreciate and benefit from getting out and exploring.

“My students aren’t just renting a room. They’re getting me and my friends and family, too. If you treat them with care and respect – the way you’d expect others to treat your children – they’ll grow right along with you.”

North Island College welcomes students from all over the world. Caring homestay hosts – like Phyllis – are needed URGENTLY, particularly in Campbell River, Comox, and Port Alberni.

Hosts receive a generous allowance to offset expenses, 24/7 support, special health and safety training, and the opportunity to bring the world to their front door.

For more information about hosting international students, contact Canada Homestay Network at or 1-877-441-4443. To learn more and apply, visit