Where were you born and raised?
I was born right here in Brockville at the Brockville General Hospital. I went away to college at Algonquin, I wanted to “get out of the small town”. When I finished college, I moved to Calgary for a few years to work. In my late 20s I wanted to put some roots down, so I decided to move back to Brockville, and I was fortunate to find employment. I have new and old friends and my family is in the area. I definitely have a new perspective of Brockville as an adult, it’s an amazing place to live.
Can you tell us about the Canada Homestay Network and how you got involved?
The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has a partnership with the Canada Homestay Network – the largest and most experienced homestay company in Canada. For international students coming into the UCDSB within Leeds and Grenville, they need places for students to live. The Homestay Network finds families and homes willing to take students in. The intention is for the hosts to treat the students like their own son or daughter.
I currently work at Fulford Academy, so I’m already used to working with international students and that lifestyle. When I met my wife, Meghan, she was also working at Fulford at the time. We both knew Matt Raby, who’s the Executive Director of the UCDSB International Education Program, so he was a common connection for us. When we bought our home, Matt mentioned this program might be something we would be interested in. We have a fairly good size home and we have the space, and we don’t have kids of our own yet, so the timing worked.
When did you start hosting international students?
We hosted our first international student three years ago. We have had the same Brazilian girl, named Andressa, for the past three years. She originally came to do what she thought was going to be grade 10, but they made her do grade 9 over again. She didn’t want to be left behind from her friends back home, so she actually completed grade 9 and 10 in one year. Then she came back for grade 11, and now she’s in grade 12 at TISS and is planning to go to a Canadian university next year.
We’ve also had other students throughout that process too. We’ve had a girl from Mexico who was with us from one year, another student from Spain for one semester, and other students through Fulford Academy. The owner of Fulford Academy has another business outside of the Academy, where she brings students in for college, university and high school to Leeds and Grenville and surrounding area. We had two Chinese students with us for one semester who were attending St. Mary’s. We have also taken in a student from Equatorial Guinea over the holidays, as she wasn’t able to go home for Christmas.
We have also had one other Chinese student, who was connected to us through a colleague at Fulford Academy, she lived with us for two years while attending BCI. The student’s mom also came and visited for a summer and stayed longer, so we actually had her and her mom living with us for a while.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a host parent?
Just knowing that Andressa, who came here when she was only 15 years old, has a safe place to live. I consider her part of our family and I love her as if she was my own daughter. The relationship I’ve made with her family is absolutely amazing. I joke with her dad, that we are long lost kindred spirits that have been connected through this experience. It’s been rewarding to see how much her parents appreciate what we have been able to offer their daughter. We don’t have much, but we’ve been able to offer her so much more than any money could provide, and them knowing she has a safe place, that makes me feel really good.
We actually went to Brazil and we met Andressa’s family. We stayed with them and travelled. Despite the fact that Andressa is 17, her parents aren’t that much older than Meghan and I. So there wasn’t a huge gap in age, her parents are some of my best friends now. They came and stayed with us the following year and I’m in contact with her dad all the time. This experience has completely opened up a whole new world – I would have never thought I would ever travel to Brazil. Now I have connections and family down there.
Now that I’ve done it [hosted international students], I would want to do it more so with my own children one day, because I think it would be such an amazing experience for them. It’s been an amazing experience for me, and I definitely recommend anybody to get involved in the program. Now, I will say not every connection with every student is going to be the same. We’ve had a very special connection with Andressa, but we’ve also made other great connections on different levels with other students, depending on how long they were with us for. There really hasn’t been a bad moment.
Have you experienced any challenges? Do you have any suggestions to overcome them?
I wouldn’t say there have been many challenges. I work in an international environment, so I am constantly communicating with international students. So, I am somewhat ‘trained’. Probably the biggest thing for me at first, was giving people space. When you bring people you don’t know into your home, it’s somewhat weird at first, until you get to know each other.
There’s always going to be cultural differences, something that’s normal in their culture is different here. Whether it comes to food, or daily activities and routines. But you just have to be open, and understand that just because you think something is normal, doesn’t mean it is for them. I’ve also learnt to ask a lot of questions to ensure I’m being understood.
How do you like to spend your free time?
We’re a very active household – we play soccer, hockey and like to go hiking. We have two dogs and a cat, so we are always out walking our dogs. I like to cycle, and I am part of the Brockville Cycling Advisory Committee. Meghan and I were also on the Committee for the Brockville Winter Classic event. When we decided to move back to Brockville and make it our permanent home, we really bought into the small town community. So we got involved in everything and anything we could, it works for us and our lifestyle.
What do you love about living in Leeds Grenville?
It’s what I know. It’s always been my home, despite how I felt about it in the past. It’s the comfortable place it always was. My mom lives around the corner from me, and my dad a brother are a few streets away. My aunt and uncle have also retired here. I have a great group of friends, new and old. I’ve also been able to become immersed in the community through volunteering and my career as well. There are so many amazing people in this community.