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The world comes knocking

Homestay hosts needed around Oak Park High School

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John and Beth Szuck with Bowen Zheng, a homestay student who stayed with them last year to attend Oak Park High School.

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John and Beth Szuck with Bowen Zheng, a homestay student who stayed with them last year to attend Oak Park High School. Photo Store

The world is willing to come to your home, if you have a little extra room for it.

The Pembina Trails School Division is putting out a call for families to host international students as part of their Homestay Program.

"We’re really looking for homestays for students from Italy, Belgium, Mexico, Germany, and Brazil," said Brent Poole, director of the PTSD’s International Student Program.

"We are currently out of homestays…there’s a waiting list of students who are waiting to get into the program, but until we get the families, we can’t accept them," Poole said, adding there is a need for homestay families around the Oak Park High School area in Charleswood.

Poole said the division’s program, started in 1995, has 161 students taking part from over 15 countries.

Students have to pay a $10,000 tuition fee, and a homestay family receives a $650 per month stipend to cover costs.

The main reason the international students take part in the program is to improve their English, Poole said, but they’re not the only ones who gain from it.

"It’s also a huge benefit to the Canadian students who don’t go abroad to travel. They don’t go to the world, so we bring the world to them," he said.

Host families — sometimes empty-nesters looking to bring some young life back to their home, but also single people — often form lifetime friendships with not only the students they host, but also the students’ families.

That’s been the experience of Beth and John Szuck, who have hosted about 25 international students in the last eight years and have maintained relationships with many of them.

They’ve travelled to Germany, Brazil, and Mexico (twice) to visit with ex-homestay students and their families.

"The parents, I love the parents. I love meeting the parents. We’re all the same, we all went to parent school. We’re all the same all over the world," Beth said.

The fact that their own kids have grown and they live close to Oak Park High School led the Szucks to become a homestay family. They currently have two international students at their Charleswood home.

"They enrich our lives, you know, they’re interesting and we learn about their culture," Beth said.

The students, who stay with them at least six months, have never given them any problems.

"The kids have been good… I think because we treat them as a member of our family, they feel comfortable here," she said.

Beth said they do become close to the students, who stay with them at least six months, but it’s unlike a parental relationship.

"You don’t act like parents. You act like, I don’t know, you’re just there for them… we support them as they figure things out."

They may not act like parents, but Chinese student Bowen Zheng, who stayed with them last year and is now taking engineering at the University of Manitoba, obviously felt a parental bond.

"Bowen’s great. He’s the only one that called us mom and dad. We don’t expect them to, we say we’re Beth and John, but he said ‘I want to call you mom and dad,’ and he still does."

For more information about the PTSD Homestay Program call Julie  at 204-488-1767 ext. 1203.

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