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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Student tour groups are making a comeback to Victoria despite tight market

More than 100 high school students from Yokohama’s Yamate Gakuin are being hosted by homestay families across the CRD

By Michael John Lo
March 23, 2023
Education
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Student tour groups are making a comeback to Victoria despite tight market

More than 100 high school students from Yokohama’s Yamate Gakuin are being hosted by homestay families across the CRD

By Michael John Lo
Mar 23, 2023
High school students from Yokohama, Japan arriving in Victoria last Saturday. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily
High school students from Yokohama, Japan arriving in Victoria last Saturday. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily
Education
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Student tour groups are making a comeback to Victoria despite tight market

More than 100 high school students from Yokohama’s Yamate Gakuin are being hosted by homestay families across the CRD

By Michael John Lo
March 23, 2023
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Student tour groups are making a comeback to Victoria despite tight market
High school students from Yokohama, Japan arriving in Victoria last Saturday. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily

Over 100 high school students from Yokohama, Japan are visiting Victoria this week as part of a longstanding international exchange program at a Japanese high school that first began in 1970. It's the largest group of Japanese students to visit Victoria since the pandemic, according to trip organizers MLI Homestay.

Every April, Grade 11 high school students studying at Yamate Gakuin High School disperse to English-speaking schools for two weeks of study abroad. What first started as a single exchange program to Dayton, Washington has now grown to students being placed in more than 18 different cities across Canada, the US, and Australia. This year, students are only visiting Victoria and Vancouver, a decision made in light of the pandemic.

Studying abroad is not an uncommon occurrence for Japanese high schoolers. Compared to Canadians, who mostly choose to go abroad for their third year of university, Japanese students sometimes get international study experience before they get their high school diploma, said Cheryl Lee, chief operating officer at MLI Homestay. 

“They actually came [to Victoria starting in] the year of SARS, in 2003,” Lee said. “600 kids that came to Victoria—that was a huge undertaking.”

A total of 444 students from Yamate Gakuin are participating in the exchange this year, with 124 coming to Victoria and the rest to Vancouver. Lee said that the decision on what to do for this year’s exchange program was made 18 months earlier, in the middle of COVID-19’s Omicron wave.

“They decided that it was safer that they all come to one destination, rather than spreading them through all of the English-speaking world. So we were the lucky recipients of that,” Lee said.

Students are staying with homestay families and studying at Pacific Christian School (PCS) in the mornings. They will also have the opportunity to visit places like the Royal BC Museum and UVic.

Last Saturday, a gymnasium half-full of expectant homestay families were on site to greet the three busloads of students. Saanich councillor and PCS alumni Zac de Vries was also present to welcome students.

“I hope that this is a really fun and enriching experience for them,” said de Vries in an interview with Capital Daily. “They get to come to our beautiful District and region, and they’re going to have all kinds of experiences with Canadian culture.”

De Vries said that he looks forward to more exchanges like these happening as the world adjusts to a post-pandemic normality. 

The students were paired with their homestay families at Pacific Christian School, where they will be spending their mornings throughout the week. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily

Many of the host families brought homemade signs and flags in welcome. 

Julie Neill is a second-generation homestay parent. She has fond memories of her parents hosting Japanese students when she was an early teenager in the ’90s.

“It’s so much fun to share our family with somebody who’s coming in, completely unknowing of what life in Canada is like,” she said while on site to greet the students on Saturday. “Everybody’s just always so excited to be here and so excited to learn.”

“It’s just really fun to show off our city,” she added. Neill also hosts homestay students with the Sooke School District, which usually hosts between 250-300 international students. 

Along with cultural enrichment, International student enrollment is now increasingly relied upon as a funding source by public schools. It’s an important revenue source since the school budget cuts in 2001, according to Macleans. The Vancouver District School Board budget reported nearly $28 million in international student tuition in 2019. 

The majority of homestay students studying in the Sooke School District are in Grades 10 to 12, said SD62 spokesperson Kristen McGillivray. She added that SD62’s large homestay program received a much smaller number of students during the 2020-21 school year, but picked up quickly in the following years.

Homestay family shortages are being felt across Canada, with some companies going door-to-door to find prospective hosts. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily

None of these study in Canada programs would happen if not for the homestay families that shelter, feed, transport, and support students away from home. Homestay parents are usually not paid for their services but receive a non-income taxed honorarium. 

However, the shortage of available homestay families is increasingly affecting international programs. Inflation, rising costs, and a tight housing market has forced international student placement companies to go door-to-door in search of potential hosts, according to CityNews. That’s despite an almost 60% drop in international student enrollments across Canada in the 2021-22 school year compared to the year of 2018-19, according to statistics from the Canadian Association of Public Schools - International. 

MLI Homestay was able to find enough homestay parents for this week’s trip. Host families are being paid $480 per student for the week’s stay. The SD62 honorarium for hosts was raised to $975 a month this school year to nearly double what it was in 2015. 

"Yamate's a long friend to Victoria," Lee said. "It's cool that we were able to help them leave their island to come to this island."

Students from Yamate Gakuin will be in Victoria for the remainder of the week before they fly back to Japan on Sun. March 26.

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