Getting off a plane and meeting a host family in a strange new city can be overwhelming for an international exchange student. They’re excited but also nervous; it may take time for them to settle into your family and life in Canada.  As host families, you can help them feel at home in Metro Vancouver or Thunder Bay with these ten tips.

1. Create a welcome package

Before your student arrives, curate a small welcome gift basket of things they might need. Include some uniquely Canadian items (maybe something maple-flavoured or gift cards for local foods) and some items to make their stay more comfortable. 

Consider including other resources like brochures for local attractions or activities. It would also be helpful to have a list of your family’s telephone numbers and numbers of emergency contacts in the community. 

2. Have their room ready

Your student may want some quiet time in their new room when they arrive. Ensure their room is freshly cleaned including the desk and drawers or closet space. Make sure to provide them with the WiFi password so they can check in with friends and family back home. Some students may want to hang out in their room more frequently than you initially expected. Immersing yourself in a new culture and language can be tiring. Invite them to participate with you and your family, but realize they may be tired from travelling.

When they’re ready, you can give them a tour of your home, explain the house rules, and provide a community tour. 

3. Include them in your regular family activities

A big part of being an international exchange student is the opportunity to experience life in a different country, culture, and family. Help them feel welcome to participate with your family as much as you can and as much as they want. Inviting them to extended family gatherings, outings with your family or to participate in some of your family traditions are all great ways to make your student feel included.

Remember, some students may not want to participate in all your activities, but inviting them is still a great way to make them feel included.

4. Encourage reciprocal knowledge sharing

This experience isn’t a one-way street. Show interest in your student and their culture. Ask them questions about their family culture and traditions. It’s also great fun for a host family to learn about a new culture. 

You can ask your homestay student if they will share some favourite recipes with you or cook a dinner they enjoy with you. Cooking together can be a great bonding experience for you and your student. 

5. Bridging language gaps with notes and body language

A common cause of unease among international students often comes with the language gap. Your student may not be fluent or may be self conscious about speaking a new language. Don’t make them feel wrong or judged if they make a mistake.

As they spend time in Canada, their English will get better and they become more confident in speaking in English. In the meantime, you can bridge the gap by using hand and body signals to communicate, using a translator app, or using sticky notes. If there are particular words your student wants to work on remembering you can put sticky notes on those objects in your home. This can help them remember the English word for the object.

6. Introduce them to others their age

Sometimes, students may ease into Canadian life easier if they can socialize with others their age. Introduce them to neighbours with kids around their age to see if they can connect socially. 

Encourage your children to engage with your international student too. Often, kids can communicate better with their peers than adults, who may seem intimidating at first. 

7. Maintain open, honest communication

Create a home life where your student can communicate openly and honestly with you. Recognize that there will be things they don’t want to talk with you about, but invite them to share openly with you when they’re comfortable. Be open to hearing what they have to say or if they have any concerns. 

You can meet with your student and family weekly to plan for the upcoming week, address any concerns or questions, and meal plan together. Regular family meetings are great for the whole family to communicate. 

The goal is if your student is struggling or having a problem at home or school, they are comfortable speaking with you.

8. Encourage them to video call with People Back home

Talking with friends and family back home can help many students feel energized and boost their mood. Encourage your student to video call or phone their family as often as needed, especially in the first few weeks as they settle in. 

When they’re ready, ask if you can join a video call to meet their family. It’s a great way to make international connections and for your student to see you being friendly with their family, easing any uncertainty they may be feeling. 

9. Go on outings with other host families and their students

There are likely many families in your community that also host international students. Connect with them and do outings together. This allows your student to experience the community and talk with their peers who understand the challenges of being away from their families and country. 

Homestay companies like Harmony Homestay may organize local events for their host families and students. These events may be casual dinners or outings to local attractions. Ask your student if they’d like to attend these events alone or as a family. 

10. Let Your student take the lead

Ultimately, you need to read your student’s demeanour and emotions and let them take the lead. Pushing them to do and see everything all at once can be overwhelming. Watch how they act and speak and encourage them without pushing them.

Your relationship with your student can grow and flourish long beyond their stay with your family if you are there for them when they need you and treat them with respect.

How to become a homestay host

Harmony Homestay is currently looking for hosts around Metro Vancouver, BC, and Thunder Bay, Ontario. If you are ready to open your home to an international student, read our host family information

Submit your host family application online today to get the process started.

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