Kathy had never expected that life in Canada would mean two
pieces of ham per sandwich and two thirds of a glass of milk. But
that was the reality that greeted the student from China when she
began her stay with a Canadian family.
The 15-year-old came to Canada two months ago from Shanghai to
study in Ottawa. Her mother, through a Toronto-based homestay
agency called Golden Source International, found her what she
thought was the perfect place to stay: a "single-mom family with
one teenager." At a price of 750 Canadian dollars (US$787) a month,
Kathy would have a furnished room and three " balanced nutritious"
meals every day.
What she got was far from that.
"I always feel hungry," said Kathy, speaking in Mandarin during
a recent telephone interview with Xinhua.
Kathy said one morning early in her stay, she was preparing a
sandwich and milk for herself, when her landlord informed her that
she could only have two pieces of ham for a sandwich and no more
than two thirds of a glass of milk.
"The lunch I take to school is two pieces of bread with one
hotdog, one apple, one tin of juice, and several crackers," her
voice raising, "It has never changed for a hundred years! And the
vegetable I have had for the past two months is forever
Xiaoying Hong, Kathy's mother, said she is very concerned over
her daughter's life.
"It's such a difficult thing to go through when you are new to
another country," Hong said, speaking in Mandarin from Shanghai, "
she's so young, I'm really worried about the long-term
Kathy is not the only homestay student to complain about her
landlord in Canada, which draws thousands of students every year
from overseas. According to Larry Guo, director of Golden Source
agency, 20 to 30 percent of students who find homestay families
through the agency are dissatisfied with their host families. Most
of the complaints are about distance to school, food and cultural
barriers. Guo's company places 500 students each year in
Guo said his agency has special personnel to deal with the
complaints. They encourage the students to communicate with the
host family first. If differences cannot be resolved, the agency
will switch the students to another of its host families.
According to Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Ministry,
there were 156,955 international students in Canada in 2006. There
is currently no official record of the number of international
students who live with Canadian families. But Canada requires that
foreign students younger than 16 years must live with a custodian.
And many others choose to live with Canadian families to improve
their language and learn about local culture.
Homestay fees vary from program to program and are often split
between the host family and the agency. Best prices range from 700
Canadian dollars to 750 per month and include three meals per day.
But the students also are asked to pay a registration fee, from 50
Canadian dollars to 350 Canadian dollars, which is
Homestay is an apparently big industry but so far the government
has not come out with much-needed regulation or monitoring on it,
which has led to various problems.
For one thing, although agencies and most of the school boards
offer homestay services for international students, there are a
substantial number of students who find homestay families without
going through school boards or agencies.
"There's nobody who oversees it," says Geoff Best, director of
the Ottawa International Student Program of the Ottawa-Carleton
District School Board.
The school board has designated Canada Homestay International to
find host families for its students. The agency, started in 1994,
has a self-regulation system to make sure the homestays they
arrange are comfortable and safe. It screens host families via
phone and in-person interviews. It also asks for police checks.
The importance of doing so became evident this year when a man
paid by language schools to look after international students
visiting Canada was charged with brutal robberies of Asian women in
Even so, not all the agencies conduct detailed screening of host
families. Stewart MacDonald, a senior consultant from Canada
Homestay Search, said his organization does not ask for police
checks from host families.
Sometimes even some agency offers screening, it is not so
satisfactory. In the case of Kathy, while her mother thought she
was placing Kathy with a "single-mom with a teenager" family, Kathy
said she found out when she arrived that the single mom also lives
with her boyfriend. A second, older son often comes home at night
to crash on the sofa.
"It's an unregulated industry," said Brenda St. Jean, a senior
executive officer from Canada Homestay International.
Having been in the business for eight years, Guo believes there
should be a regulation body to safeguard international students'
rights. But if this organization were to exist as a non-
governmental body, he doubts it would have the authority to act
MacDonald said there were discussions about regulation early
this year, but so far "nothing is coming up."
(Xinhua News Agency November 13, 2007)