Having moved to Vancouver from small-town Ontario, Deana Williams is feeling the pinch. The mom of two loves her new home. The cost of living? Not so much. And with money being tight, forget travelling the globe anytime soon. The furthest her family can venture these days is Seattle, not the south of France.
But like so many other families across the country, the Williams have found a way to experience other cultures and earn some extra cash all from the comfort of her own home. They’ve signed on to be a host family to homestay students.
“We did this for two reasons,” Williams explains. “We don’t have the finances to go travel and we want to teach the boys as much as we can about the world. We thought, ‘Well, we can bring the world to us and learn a lot about people and cultures from all over the world.’ And at the same time we can have a little bit of money coming in to help with groceries.”
Since the family started opening up their home to international students last year, they’ve had visitors from Japan, Brazil, and Italy come and stay for anywhere from two weeks to six months. The family is expected to provide meals and a decent, private room with a desk; help students become oriented in their new city; and, most importantly, to make them feel included.
“They arrive jet-lagged and typically start school the next day,” Williams says. “I’ll take them to the grocery store so they can pick some foods they may be familiar with then show them how to get around on public transit. We want the people living with us to be part of our family, so we’re really making an effort to do that.”
Rates vary, but so far the Williams have received $775 to $825 per month for being a host family.
According to the Canada Homestay Network, fees range from $775 a month for full room and board in Edmonton to $850 for the same in Ottawa to $950 in Toronto. It has 20 locations across Canada -- Whitehorse, Airdrie, Alta., Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., Fredericton, and Halifax -- and has placed students from more than 70 countries.
Homestay Connection, meanwhile, charges students $775 for a three-meal monthly homestay plan. (Students also pay agencies a placement fee and a fee for airport pickup.)
Before signing on as a host family, Homestay Connection provides these points to consider:
Will you be in town throughout the student’s stay?
Is everyone in your family flexible enough to welcome a student with different cultural background?
Are you sensitive to the fact that students need nurturing and support if they feel overwhelmed being so far away from home?
If you have kids, will they be comfortable with someone from another country living with you?
Do you have time to devote to the student? Are you willing to include them not just at the dinner table but also possibly on some family outings?
Do you have appropriate household insurance (tenants’ insurance)? Some policies may have certain exclusions or may limit the number of students you can host.
Homestay companies emphasize that families considering being hosts shouldn’t think of it as an easy way to make money.
“You should not take students for monetary reasons only,” Homestay Connection states on its website. “We know from experience that this does not work. The students feel this, and it interferes with the intended Homestay experience.”
The Canada Homestay Network puts it this way: “Our hosts are interested in sharing their lifestyle in a positive and mutually rewarding way. We do not accept hosts who are interested in money alone. These motives are obvious to students, and interfere with the intended homestay experience: a safe, secure, welcoming environment to learn and grow in.”