Families needed to give international students a home away from home

Julie Popovich knows first-hand what an enriching experience it can be to open your home to an international student.

And now, the St. Catharines mother of three is hoping to encourage other Niagara families to follow in her footsteps.

Popovich is sharing her experience with Brock’s Homestay program, through which she has welcomed many students from around the world into her home since 2012.

The long-standing University initiative connects Canadian families with incoming international ESL students as they adapt to the lifestyle and demands of studying in Canada.

Popovich, a licensed insurance advisor, learned about the program at an ideal time her life — just after her children moved out of the family home.

“I’ve been a mom for 33 years, so I’m used to having people around and providing instructions and guidance on getting through life,” she said.

She has since enjoyed having Brock students as part of her household.

In February, Popovich was matched with Ayaka Maeda, a Level 5 ESL student from Doshisha University in Japan, who came to Canada to improve her English-speaking skills.

While Maeda spends most of her days in classes increasing her language proficiency, she often spends her evenings with Popovich. The pair have dinner together, prepare lunch for the next day and share stories about Japanese and Canadian culture.

“She always asks me about my day,” Maeda said. “We talk about assignments and what I did after school.”

Popovich and Maeda, who will live together until December, have also spent time shopping at local outlet malls and plan to head to Niagara Falls for Canada Day to watch the fireworks display.

More than 400 students participate in Homestay each year, and Brock is always looking for new host families. The program offers a chance for St. Catharines and Thorold residents to learn about other cultures while also giving back to the community.

The program is not only rewarding, but also easy to navigate, Popovich said, as assistance is available for students and hosts every step of the way.

“It’s one of the best things that’s happened in my life,” she said. “Having students in my house has been eye opening. You really gain an appreciation for other cultures.”

Host families are also compensated with $800 per month to cover the additional cost of food and electricity throughout the student’s stay.

Most stays are 14 weeks in length and start in January, May and September, although a number of short-term opportunities, some as little as three weeks, also exist.

For instance, a recent agreement with Mexico through a government-funded program will see 150 Mexican learners attend Brock between July and November for a four-week program. Each student will require a Homestay host.

More information about becoming a Homestay family is available on the Brock University website. To apply, residents must complete an online application, followed by an orientation session, criminal records check and a home inspection to determine if the program is a good fit.

Questions about the Homestay program can be directed to homestay@brocku.ca or 905-688-5550 x5029.

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