SURREY — Students here will rub shoulders with more than 1,000 international students when they return to class next week.
So far, 1,004 students from other countries are registered to study at Surrey’s public schools starting Tuesday (Sept. 8), according to Angela Olson, the district’s manager of international education.
The number of fee-paying international students in Surrey has doubled over the past five years, she told the Now.
This year, that fee is $13,500, as set by the board of Surrey schools.
Close to 65 per cent of the international students live with a “homestay,” or host family, and the remainder with a parent or other family member.
Host families are paid anywhere from $800 to $1,100 per month to house and feed an international student during their stay in Canada.
“In Surrey, there are definitely more host families than there are students needing a host family,” Olson said Monday, “and that’s mostly because the city is home to a large number of families with homes large enough to take in a student.”
It’s a different story elsewhere in the province, she said.
“In the Nanaimo school district, for example, they could have a bigger (international student) program if they had enough quality homestays. They are limited there, and they have capacity in the schools.”
At a media event in Surrey last Friday (Aug. 28), the provincial government revealed new homestay guidelines while honouring a pair of those who open their homes to students from abroad.
One of the honourees was Tarnia Pickard, a Guildford-area resident who has been a homestay parent for two years. Her family currently houses a student from Mexico while she attends Grade 11 classes at Johnston Heights Secondary.
“It’s been a great experience for our family,” Pickard told the Now. “We’re not travelling much at this stage of our lives, but by having these students come into our homes, it’s bringing those cultures, those flavours to us. They bring their photo albums and their interests, their traditions and food, and they’re sharing all that with us. It’s really fabulous.”
Of course, the cultural exchange goes both ways. “It’s kind of the Canadian thing to share our culture and our traditions with people from other parts of the world, and that’s what this is,” Pickard added. “We allow them to really experience Canada. I think it’s an honour to be part of that with them.”
During the 2014-15 school year, there were nearly 17,000 international students in B.C.’s K-12 system – more than 13,100 in 50 school districts and close to 3,800 in 101 independent schools. The result is an estimated $400 million pumped into the provincial economy.
The new provincial guidelines, published in several languages, outline responsibilities for both homestay families and those who help bring students here from other countries.
In Surrey, most international students come here from China, South Korea and Vietnam, in order, followed by Japan and Germany, Olson said.
“We have seen our numbers continue to grow, and we also have limits we’ve set for the number of international students we’ll accept,” Olson said. “At the elementary level, we also have international students, and those numbers are expected to grow as well.… The trend is that more and more students are coming here from China (and) we’re also looking to diversify the program, with more students coming from places like Germany and Chile, Columbia, Mexico, the Czech Republic.”
In B.C., school districts and independent schools offer homestay using three different administrative models: running their own program; contracting out to agencies and simply listing homestay agencies available to international parents.
On the Surrey Schools’ website, the list of homestay and custodian service providers includes Harmony Homestay, Cypress Homestay, ICE Canada, White Rock Homestay and E and E Education Centre.