Curiosity leads to rewarding experience hosting international students in Guelph

It was sheer curiosity that led Guelph’s Rachel Wanjiru to sneak a peek at a Facebook ad about hosting international students.

“For some reason, I clicked on it, even though I had never heard of homestay before,” she says. “I started filling up the form reluctantly, thinking it could be (just) marketing stuff. I got correspondence immediately and that made me more confident to go ahead. The whole idea of having an exchange international student got me excited.”

Wanjiru and partner James Wanderi are a busy family of seven Kenyan Canadians. Their oldest child is 10 years old and the baby is 11 months. What happened after clicking on that ad would prove to be an exciting and fun experience for the entire family.

Having hosted their first student in 2019, the family has never looked back. They have already hosted students from Japan, Belgium, Italy and Thailand.

Before the first student arrived, Wanjiru experienced a range of emotions, from excitement to feeling a little nervous.

“Will the student like it here? Will they like my cooking? Then things ease up as we get to know the student and vice versa,” she says.

The kids, however, had no such sense of nervousness. Wanjiru says they were nothing but excited, continuously asking when the student would arrive.

“My two daughters love having students as ‘big sisters’; they bond with the students. I can’t count the numerous love notes the students collected from my daughters,” Wanjiru says. “Then, after the students leave, they want to go visit Japan, Belgium, Italy … to see the students. They have also enjoyed baking, making pancakes, walking through the parks and other outings with the students.”

Wanjiru and her family have benefitted from hosting in many ways, from learning about other cultures to making a difference in the lives of international students.

“Any new experience is worth experiencing,” she says. “After all, we learn through experience and (the) homestay experience is great. It is like travelling around the globe (from) the comfort of your home. The students leave better than when they arrive, in terms of their learning and overall experience. That makes me and my family proud and happy for being part of their success story. Thank you, homestay, for bringing the world to us.”

Most of all, Wanjiru says, hosting is fun.

Julian Inglis, manager of English Language Programs at the University of Guelph, is responsible for the overall management of the program and its success. Student accommodation is a key area of responsibility within his role.

“Our program is challenging, like any program that must prepare students for successful university study. If the students are not applying their English in real situations outside the classroom, they will not meet the larger program level learning outcomes that we map out for students,” Inglis says.

“Homestay is not just an add-on that will be nice for the student. A living environment that is richly interactive and supportive is actually required for success. This is why we suggest very strongly that students ether choose homestay or campus residence.”

Sharing these rich experiences with an international student can provide a Canadian host family with an entirely new perspective.

“The thing I love about spending time with newcomers to Canada is seeing your familiar surroundings through their eyes,” Inglis says. “Many things that we take for granted and barely notice are new and interesting to them.

“It’s kind of like rediscovering the world around you alongside them as they see it for the first time.”

This year, the Upper Grand District School Board and University of Guelph are welcoming more students from all over the world. Caring homestay hosts — like Wanjiru, Wanderi and their kids — are needed urgently for academic-year placements across the district.

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