A once-thriving program that has brought international students to study in the province for 25 years is struggling to find host families for the upcoming school year.
The Nova Scotia International Student Program (NSISP) began in 1997 and continued each year until executives suspended the program for three semesters due to COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, beginning in Sept. 2020.
The program resumed in February, but according to acting NSISP Executive Director Mike Rosson, organizers are having difficulty finding families willing to host international students in the province.
Rosson believes part of the problem in finding hosts is the ongoing pandemic, but also a variety of factors like converting a guest room into a work-from-home office, a family member having moved back home, or due to prospective hosts being forced to downsize their living arrangements.
Working in collaboration with the province’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Rosson says the NSISP is celebrating its 25th year, during which time Nova Scotia has become home to more than 20,000 international students from 67 countries.
"We work in over 70 schools, so our students are literally everywhere in the province," Rosson said, noting that homestay families "really are the heart of our program."
Rossonnoted the NSISP helps "internationalize" Nova Scotia schools, particularly in rural areas.
In an effort to give as many Nova Scotian students the opportunity to learn about diversity by making connections with people from different backgrounds, the NSISP limits the number of international students in any school to six.
"Just as importantly, the international students have a chance to learn about our culture, and I think that really adds a richness to the schools in Nova Scotia," he said.
While students in Nova Scotia do not pay to go to public school, students in the NSISP are required to pay both tuition fees and homestay fees. Part of the homestay fee is given to the family to subsidize living arrangements in the form of a monthly stipend.
Rosson pointed out that the NSISP has more than 70 staff members providing support to international students during their stay in Nova Scotia. Host families also have a designated homestay coordinator.
“We have so many wonderful stories of families and students that have made connections while they were in the province and have stayed in touch,” Rosson said, noting the program has seen international students return to be part of weddings in Nova Scotia. “In many cases, our homestay families will go to the international student’s country to visit.”