International Students and Homestays
When the pandemic hit us here on Salt Spring Island, we were told that our schools would not reopen after Spring Break (possibly for the remainder of the year). It meant our international students had two choices to make. They could choose to stay on Salt Spring with their host families, knowing that they may not be going back to the school for weeks, or they could return back home to their families quickly while there were still flights available and the borders were open. Everything unfolded very rapidly, and students and their natural parents had to make decisions together very quickly. The question for our students became “where do I want to study? At home – here on Salt Spring or back with my family in my home country?”
Some students did not want to leave, but their governments ordered them to return. Others were recommended that they stay, believing it would be safer in Canada. By the time the borders were officially closed, we had only about 1/3 of the students opt or ordered to return home. Most chose to stay on Salt Spring.
I think this decision reflects a lot about Salt Spring Island and especially about our homestays. Taking in another child and making sure that they are safe during times like these, takes a big heart. It also takes a great community of teachers, counsellors, and friends to make sure that the physical distancing is just that – while still encouraging a healthy sense of social connection with others. We wanted to ensure that they remained connected so that they continued to feel part of the community both in school and out. The homestays are vital in helping our students feel safe and loved during this tender time.
When chatting with the homestays and the students, it has been noted that daily structure has been incredibly valuable. Youth are feeling stronger when they have healthy routines, regular sleep schedules and opportunities for social connection. Food has also become really important. As one of our hosts reflected to us, “it is comforting having things that remind a student of home” and so her student is in the kitchen more often and the outcome is great! Another student commented on how the days are simple but that doesn’t mean they are bad, but rather “peaceful and good”.
Nikita Pardiwala, GISS’s ESL and Leadership teacher, has been working with her Leadership students to create online social activities. Some of the activities they have planned in May are:
- A movie night through Google Meet
- Baking video-chats
- a Multicultural Day through Instagram
- Instagram challenges weekly throughout the month and into June.
Also, Our Connecting Generation Cafés have gone virtual, which helps our ESL students continue to practise their conversation skills. Some students are still here in Canada and others are back with their families in their home countries. The Connecting Generation cafés are something that we rely on volunteers to help with – so if you are interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org