International students fill empty nests in Winnipeg bringing new cultural experiences into local homes

Student Sunn Liu of China enjoys life as the Mogks' international grand-daughter.
Student Sunn Liu of China enjoys life as the Mogks’ international grand-daughter.

By Evelyn Sieber

‘Empty nest’ can mean different things to different people. To those who have raised their children and seen them leave home, it can either mean a sense of freedom to do whatever they choose, or it can be a calling to fill that empty nest. Art and Elizabeth Mogk had a decision to make, and chose to fill their nest with international students who are coming to Winnipeg to study.

“We started hosting international students five years ago,” they explain. They have enjoyed each one. “Each student has offered us a chance to learn about life in a different part of the world. They have also shared their fears and joys as they become accustomed to our way life and education styles.

“The experience provides us with many new outlooks and a chance to revisit all the wonderful things about Winnipeg and Manitoba through their new eyes.”

In one form or another, similar hosting programs are operating in Winnipeg and much of the province for students at the high school level and beyond. More countries are sending students to our education institutions each year as our reputation continues to grow as friendly and safe, and offering a solid education.

This year, the Mogks have enjoyed hosting Sunny Liu – their 18-year-old “international granddaughter” from China – who sees Elizabeth and Art as her grandparents in Canada while finishing her grade 12 education in the Louis Riel School Division. She is a part of their family in every way from sharing the experiences of everyday teenage life to being a regular part of family gatherings and holiday celebrations with extended family.

Elizabeth and Art’s son and daughter-in-law also have hosted international students for years as a part of their young busy family. Homestay families have a unique opportunity for cultural exchange, by sharing different foods, holiday celebrations and traditions while learning about those from the students’ home country. Homestay families in the Louis Riel School Division look on it as experiencing another culture without leaving home. In many cases, they develop lifelong relationships.

Many homestay families see this as an opportunity to “re-visit” Winnipeg by going sightseeing with their student to places they haven’t been in years. Snow becomes much more fun when seen through the eyes of a student who has never seen it before!

International students have been a part of the Louis Riel School Division for almost 30 years, and with new growth. In the last three years, families attached to all division high schools are now playing host.

A hosting experience such as this often fills a void that is left by sons or daughters growing up and moving out. The families sending these students take comfort from knowing their children will receive care in a home setting from an actual family. Both sets of parents can enjoy these connections and communications as well, sometimes face-to-face through Skype or other social media. It’s a win-win situation.

With Louis Riel School Division’s program now accepting international students into all of their high schools, the need for homestay families is increasing. Having a variety of families available to host students better enables organizers to consider requests and preferences. In addition to moral support from the school division, families receive a $650 monthly payment from the students to help offset some of the cost of having another person living in their home.

Louis Riel School Division Homestay Program has an increased need for families to accept male students into their homes this year. Applications are accepted year round. While most students apply for regular programs, some come for a short term experience. Homestay families are crucial to the success of the program. You can view more program information at http://isp.lrsd.net., or contact Evelyn Sieber in the Louis Riel School Division at evelyn.sieben@lrsd.net or 204-257-7827 ext. 345.

Evelyn Sieber is homestay co-ordinator for the Louis Riel School Division.

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