Purpose of this Blog is to provide information on:

(click on topics that interest you)

• Events homestay students participate in while being in the city

• English language tips for international students

Activities related to my novel about a group of international language students in the city
Profiles of Students

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Being a Homestay Student in Vancouver

On this blog I intend to provide monthly information along with relevant photographs about the activities and events participated in by international language students staying in Vancouver through the year. In preparation, I wrote this introductory article in March.* This is when students begin to return to the city after the language schools experience lower enrolments during the winter months. March is a particularly invigorating and visually appealing month in Vancouver due to the clarity of light, noticeably longer days, and the blooming of spring flowers.

This blog is a companion to my novel Vancouver Memories: My Year Abroad found at www.vancouvermemories.ca. The novel is a fictional account of a group of homestay students but it nevertheless features over 325 photographs of areas in and around Vancouver that highlight the events and activities that international students routinely experience through the year. In March, for instance, active students can still be skiing or snowboarding on the local mountains or cycling, walking, or rollerblading on the seawall that surrounds so much of the city.
As a homestay parent to over 80 international students for more than 15 years, I have seen the dramatic impact that being a language student in Vancouver, Canada, has on young adults. They are always reluctant to leave the city when it is time for them to return home. They have made so many meaningful connections and had so many memorable experiences. This happens wherever they are from and however long they have stayed in Vancouver—from less than a month to up to a year. About 37 percent of my homestay students have been from Asia, 27 percent from Europe, 26 percent from South America, 6 percent from Canada (Quebec), and 4 percent from Mexico. Students from all these areas appear in the novel.
Away from restrictions of family expectations and cultural norms, students at Vancouver language schools experience a feeling of freedom and begin to develop a new sense of identity. Recognizing their independence, they gain the self-confidence needed to shape their own life.
Part of the reason the experience is so fulfilling is that they find instant friends from the first couple of days of arriving at their school. All international students want companions with whom to attend popular events and to tour areas in and around the city. Also homestay students’ mutual interests outweigh their cultural differences. The reason for sped-up friendships is also because students know they have limited time. Students’ commitment to their studies along with the school’s schedule creates a structure to safely guide them while still enabling them to live a balanced life in Vancouver.
My novel Vancouver Memories: My Year Abroad reveals the experience of a fictional group of international students who participate in the yearly events that make up popular culture on the West Coast of Canada. The classmates in the story take part in the same activities that real students in Vancouver participate in—activities that they may not have access to at home. Skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, barbecuing, going to jazz and folk music festivals, hiking, picnicking, attending a lantern parade, Pride parade, and a Chinese New Year’s parade, whale watching, beach exploring, participating in carol ship night and a polar bear swim, viewing fireworks displays, taking in some film festivals, and breathing fresh ocean air while walking miles on the seawall are some of their choices. These activities form the backdrop to the novel.

I hope that this blog and my novel, with its many photographs, might provide insight to potential language students considering coming to study in Vancouver.
Both these resources indicate the main activities and events that international students commonly experience during each month of the year. I hope they also serve former students as photographic reminders of the places they visited and some of the experiences they had while studying in Vancouver. See the précis of the novel elsewhere on this blog.
If you are a teacher or administrator with a language school and you would like to use the above article or put a link to this blog on your newsletter, just contact me. I would be pleased to know of your support. And if you would like me to carry your website address on a particular article or in the Announcements section of the novel, please contact me at:
Note that most of my homestay students have attended and continue to come from Pacific Language Institute, now known as Kaplan/Pacific Language Institute. For information about PLI, see www.pli.ca

*An initial version of this article, with additional photographs, appeared in the March issue of the Japanese e-magazine Cradle Our Spirit.

Text and Photographs by Wendy Bullen Stephenson

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Homestay Advantage

Homestay seems to be the same word in most languages. Just listen to a group of international language students speaking their own language on a bus in Vancouver and you’ll hear the word pop out of their conversation over and over.
So what does homestay mean? It means living with a Canadian family in their home. Why is it considered the preferred kind of accommodation for international language students in the city? Even if you have an unlimited amount of money, it is probably the most valuable form of accommodation unless you need maid service! Then you should definitely stay in a hotel.
The reason that staying in homestay is so helpful is that in living with a Canadian family you will be able to speak English on a regular basis. So beside language learning, through your host family you’ll also come to know about Canadian culture, customs, food, and traditions. Also, members of your homestay family can help you learn to get around the city and they will include you in family activities making your time in the city even more varied and rich than just participating in the activities and excursions offered by your school.

Some Commonly Asked Questions about Homestay
Here is some information about homestay based on my Vancouver experience of hosting more than 80 homestay students from 17 countries over a 16-year period, from several schools. Some language schools have in-house homestay coordinators to administer their homestay program and some have placement agencies that look after making homestay arrangements for their students. If you know a little bit about the city, you may even be able to make your homestay arrangements via a homestay website that enables you to connect with a homestay family in the area that you are interested in.
In telling your chosen school that you want to stay in homestay, you will need to indicate the most important features of a homestay for you. Do you want to stay with hosts who have young or teenage children, are you okay with pets, do you want to stay close to the school, do you need a household that takes smokers?
If you choose to stay close to the school, you will likely stay in an apartment/condo rather than a house, as there are few houses downtown. This means you will probably have a smaller host family— a couple or even a single adult. Staying downtown means you will save the time of a long commute and it means you will not have to buy a bus pass.

Do I have to sign up and pay for three meals a day?
No. When you apply you can choose the daily meals that you want. The most common combination is breakfast and dinners. This provides 14 meals a week. This makes you responsible for your own lunch. You can then buy a sandwich, noodles, hamburger, etc., from a nearby shop to take into your school or, if you have time in the middle of your school day, you might eat out as a break. Some students choose to skip lunch altogether if they are too busy to stop or if they are dieting. If you choose to include lunch in your plan, then your homestay host will either provide you with a bag lunch or the food for you to make your own bag lunch.

When I request meals, does the family cook for me all the time? 
Most Canadians have their largest meal of the day in the evening and refer to it either as dinner or supper. (Dinner means the largest meal of the day and supper refers to the evening meal.) The host family is expected to cook a sit-down, family style supper, but breakfast may be self-serve and continental style, which generally means that the host family will provide the food items needed for you to prepare your own breakfast. When you first arrive your host family will probably ask you what you like to eat for breakfast—whether that is simply fruit, toast, and coffee, or a hot breakfast (egg on toast), or a cold breakfast (cold cereal).

Can I request to increase the number of meals or decrease them after the first month? 
Usually. If you wish additional meals, ask your host if that is possible. Some hosts may not be able to offer additional meals due to their work schedule or for other personal reasons.  But it is likely possible to reduce your number of meals if you have a late schedule or wish to eat outside at your leisure, or you simply want to prepare your own meals from your home country.

Will I receive a key to my homestay house? 
Yes. Please note that a key is responsibility and point of trust in you by your host. Ensure that you don’t lose it, as there could be a significant cost and an involved process to replacing it, especially in some condos. Luckily this cost is not as much as the key replacement fee of some apartment homes in Paris, which I understand can be up to $500!

Can I use the host family's telephone? 
Generally you may make short, local telephone calls from your Homestay, if local calls are free. All long distance calls must be made using a calling card. Please ask your host if you are going to receive calls and what are the best times for people to call you.

May I use the family computer?
Hosts are not required to offer the use of a computer; therefore, if possible, bring your laptop with you. However, some computer time is generally available in the computer lab at the school. Host families are now generally expected to provide wireless access for their homestay students. The cost of this may be included in the homestay or may be an option that the student needs to pay for as an additional charge. You may have access to Skype through wireless access that enables you to talk to people from home. Be considerate as to the times of the day when you might use this and be aware not to speak louder than you need to. Having your own laptop will enable you to watch some television in the privacy of your room. Ask your homestay host for the web address of the site that carries the local and national evening news so you can watch it on your computer. Also ask about the numbers of the Canadian Broadcasting Station (CBC) so that you can get a wide variety of music and news on your computer.

May I smoke in the house? 
The majority of hosts do not allow anyone to smoke inside their home. Also in Vancouver smoking bylaws ban smoking inside all buildings, restaurants, airports, hospitals, and public areas in parks and at outside activities (such as outdoor festivals or outdoor performances). A few hosts will allow a homestay student to smoke inside their home if someone in their family smokes. In specifying your homestay priorities, note you would like to smoke inside the house so the coordinator can try to place you with a family that smokes. However, in some cases, even if you are placed in a homestay that takes smokers, you may still have to go outside the house to smoke.

Can I do laundry in the Homestay? 
Yes. The host family will show you where the laundry facilities are and how to use and operate the laundry machines. Canadian washers and dryers may be bigger than those you have at home, so you will not want to do your laundry as often. Wait to make up a full load.  In apartment buildings and some condos, the laundry machines maybe shared and coin operated. In such cases the cost per wash is generally about $2.00 and per dry is about $2.00.

Will I be able to go shopping? 
Yes. Your host will let you know how and where to go shopping for certain types of merchandise, and if you wish, you might go shopping with them. Accompanying your host, especially initially, could save you time, effort, and money. Most hosts know which stores offer the best value as well as how avoid shopping in locations where the prices are higher than at other stores.

Will I be able to go sightseeing with my host? 
Yes. When hosts have free time or when they are taking excursions with their family, they will generally include you. However, your admission ticket to an attraction is at your expense. Also, in taking trips or excursions with your host family, you may have to pay the hotel and restaurant costs. Ask your school or homestay coordinator what their rules are about this. If you are expected to pay all or a portion of your costs, inquire with your host in advance about estimated costs. If you choose not to accompany the family on an outing, the host will provide your with a meal to eat at home.

Will I have a curfew (time by which I must return to the Homestay each night)? 
You are an adult so you do not have a curfew. (Legal age in British Columbia is 19 years old.) However, it is customary that you tell your host family if you will miss dinner or plan to return to the house after midnight. Hosts usually worry about their homestay students if they do not come back home as usual. Your host will want you to be safe and will be able to give you valuable tips on what and when it is feasible to do certain things in the specific neighbourhood.

Can I have a guest come to my Homestay? 
Yes, proving the host family agrees in advance. In most circumstances, however, the homestay student is not permitted to have another person in their room overnight.

Can I stay at a friend's house during my visit? 
Yes. Let your host family that you will be away and how you can be contacted should someone ask about you.

What is a "List of House Rules"? 
House Rules are the rules of the particular host family with whom you are staying. These rules may include requests by your host to lock the doors of the home when you leave, turn off the lights of your room before you leave and when you sleep, to clean up the bathroom after yourself, and how to avoid receiving phone calls after a certain time at night. These rules usually apply to members of the family as well as homestay students. Homestays that accommodate more than one student at once may provide a written list of house rules and leave it in the student’s room. If there is anything you don’t understand on the list, be sure to ask your homestay parent.

How do I obtain Student Health and Travel Insurance?
Contact your homestay coordinator or school admission department for special group or student rates and benefits offered by popular insurance providers. Most schools require proof of health insurance before your arrival. This includes the cost of medical attention in an emergency. You are also responsible for insuring your own belongings against theft, loss, and damage. Arrange for any of these kinds of insurance in your home country before setting off. Do this by consulting with your own insurance broker or travel agent after finding out what kinds of insurance the school might offer.

The homestay fees may vary according to level of accommodation, area of the city, number of meals requested, and the fees set by the school. On the school’s website there is probably a table of rates based on current homestay market rates.

When will I receive information about my host? 
It all depends on what season you will be studying, your requirements, availability of the type of homestay you have requested, and occupancies. Summers are the most busy times, so the response may be slightly slower than it would be if you were attending a school in the winter, as a greater number of homestay families are available when the enrolments decline in non-prime time.

If I request airport pick up, how do I know who will meet me at the airport? 
The school may offer several pick up options. You can choose to be met by your host family or a “meet and greet” representative who will drive you to your homestay in a van, usually with other homestay students. However, if you are a seasoned traveler, you may choose to take a taxi directly from the airport to your homestay family’s home. The latter is faster than a meet and greet service. Also getting a cab directly from the airport to your homestay likely costs the least of all the alternatives other than taking public transportation which might be tiring after your long day of travel, especially if you are carrying heavy luggage and don’t know any thing about the layout of the city. At the final stage of your homestay placement, your homestay coordinator will email to you your host family details and any airport pick up instructions.

What is the best time to arrive at my host family’s home?
In booking a ticket for my flight, what is best to arrive? A Saturday or Sunday is ideal, but if you need to arrive through the week, plan to arrive in the evening after the hosts would be home from work but not too late at night. However, most host families are accommodating if you arrive later than expected.

What if I miss my flight or am delayed?
As soon as you experience a flight delay or cancellation, contact your host family by telephone and the airport pick person or service that will be waiting for you. The homestay coordinator will provide you with their telephone numbers in advance, so make sure you have ready access to those numbers on your travel day. If you are later than the airport pickup person or service is able to wait, which could be up to a couple of hours, you may have to take a cab to your homestay.

Do I receive airport drop off?
Your host family is not responsible for taking you back to the airport, but they should be able to assist you or suggest the best possible way to travel to the airport. Vancouver has a very convenient light rapid transit system called Canada Line that goes directly from downtown to right inside the airport. This is the fastest method of getting to the airport and is likely convenient as long as you don’t have more luggage than you can manage by yourself. It always good advice to not travel with more luggage than you can cope with alone.

Don’t be disturbed by all these details! Getting them sorted out will be worth the rich experience that being a homestay student in Vancouver promises.