Ever thought of hosting an international student in your home?

Laurel Murray has a “family” that spans the globe. As a host with Canada Homestay Network (CHN), Murray has opened her Cornwall, Ont. home to international middle and high school students from Japan, China, Brazil and Mexico.

Sometimes the students stay from September until June, and other times, just for a few months in the summer. But by the time they head home, they’ve developed strong bonds of affection that go both ways. “A lot of them still stay in touch even years later,” says Murray. “They call me mom.”

Murray began taking in foreign students in 2014, mainly because “my kids had left the nest and my husband was on the road all the time,” she says. “I was tired of being by myself.” Her first two students came from China and Brazil, and Murray was hooked almost immediately by the cross-cultural exchange that inevitably takes place.

“They’re learning about our society and I’m learning about theirs,” Murray says. She gets to know her students’ families through Zoom calls, and she has mastered new recipes, from Chinese dishes to burritos. Although there’s no obligation to organize expeditions, Murray enjoys ferrying her students around to some of Canada’s many attractions. Together, they’ve taken trips to Montreal and Upper Canada Village, tried glass blowing, and visited a petting zoo.

At some point, she intends to go on a tour to visit a number of her former charges. “COVID put the kibosh on my plans,” she says. “But next winter I’m planning to take a trip to Mexico with my sister and I’ll see a few of them there.”

According to Matthew Raby, executive director for the Upper Canada District School Board’s International Education Program, Murray’s experience as a host isn’t unique. “Host families learn about the world through the students that come to their homes,” he says. “The students are curious about the world. And oftentimes they have had very different life experiences from our host families.”

What’s your role?

Homestay hosts can include couples, families with children, and individuals from a variety of backgrounds, Raby says. And apart from a generous allowance for expenses, hosts get 24/7 support if needed and special health and safety training from CHN.

In return, they’re expected to supply a private bedroom, a place for the students’ clothing, a quiet place to study and internet and laundry facilities. Sometimes they also make breakfast, lunch and dinner (full board) or just breakfast and dinner (half board). But as Raby points out, the host-student relationship goes far beyond room and board.

“We really encourage families to care for students the same way they would want their own child to be cared for if they were to travel halfway around the world,” he says. “It’s great if you can expose them to occasions you might share with friends and family so they get a chance to interact.”

There’s no necessity to do anything special with students other than “involving them in your life,” Raby adds. “Some families and students prefer to do things in or nearby the home. Others are more outgoing. When it comes to making placements, we try to ensure an appropriate match.”

There’s an “urgent need for hosts through the Ontario,” says Raby. Murray, for one, is looking forward to welcoming more students into her home. “The house is too quiet when they go,” she says.

For more information about hosting international students, contact Canada Homestay Network at hostinfo@canadahomestaynetwork.ca, or 1-877-441-4443. To learn more and apply, visit https://whyihost.ca.