When Lara Lorge’s two sons moved out, the extra room in her home left a void.
At first, the quiet space was a welcome change for Lorge, an Outreach Worker with Niagara Public Health, but she soon realized she needed more in her life.
When a longtime friend mentioned fond memories of interacting with students from around the world as part of a Homestay program, Lorge discovered what was missing.
Her decision was also timely. Brock University has experienced a record level of international student enrolment over the past year, creating a need for more student accommodation.
In October, Lorge was paired with Yuki Sato, from Kobe, Japan and Yiming Yuan from Nanchang, China, both currently studying Level 3 English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Brock.
A longstanding program at the institution, Homestay connects Canadian families with incoming international ESL students as they adapt to the lifestyle and demands of Canadian student life.
Lorge, who will host Sato and Yuan for 14 weeks, already appreciates the positive influence the students have had on her life.
“It’s been good to have the energy here,” she said. “We find a lot of humour in trying to understand each other through the language barrier.”
A typical day involves the students making their own breakfast before catching the bus to and from school. ESL students attend five hours of English classes daily to increase their language proficiency.
When they return home, Sato and Yuan have dinner with Lorge and pack lunches for the next day. They often spend the evening talking and learning more about each other.
“It’s been a good experience,” said Yuan. “Lara always spends time talking with me, and we have lots of fun living together.”
Even though their time in her home has been brief, Lorge has learned a great deal about her guests’ culture, enjoying trips to the market together to make dishes that would make them feel at home.
“At first we had difficulties communicating with each other, but as we learned to understand each other, it has been more enjoyable” said Sato.
Lorge has also noticed a significant improvement in the students’ English, as well as their comfort level living thousands of kilometres away from home.
Participating in the Homestay program is a great way for Canadian families to learn about other cultures and give back to the community. Host families are compensated with $800 per month to cover the additional cost of food and electricity throughout the student’s stay.
“I wish I had the room when my sons were younger to open their world view and expose them to new things,” said Lorge.
Residents living in the St. Catharines and Thorold area who are interested in learning more about the Homestay program are invited to an information session at the Brock University International Centre on Thursday, Jan. 17 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Global Commons.