Some may say that they are the unsung heroes of the International Student Program (ISP). Homestay families are carefully selected by the division to offer a slice of Canadian life to students from other countries. Before COVID-19 and the suspension of classroom learning, the Pembina Trails ISP program would organize many activities for these students to sightsee and socialize. Closures due to the pandemic means families are now supporting international students full-time in their homes.
Vojtech Hudecek and Barbora Hudeckova are siblings from the Czech Republic and ISP students living with separate homestay families. Since Covid-19, the brother and sister have been in quarantine in different houses. Thankfully their homestay families and our ISP program, are offering much appreciated comfort and care.
Vojtech, or Voyta, as he likes to be called, lives with Amy Hobson a homestay mom since 2002. This year, she has welcomed three students to live with her family. The retired day-care operator is humble when Voyta describes her as a super mom. Instead, Hobson says it is the students that make her home complete.
“The lively camaraderie is inspiring. They all have lots of school work to do, so that’s priority one. But it’s the laughter and all the fun they are having while they are working and horsing around outside that I enjoy so much,” shared Hobson.
Barbora’s caregiver, Michelle Menzies, is new to the homestay program. A Pembina Trails teacher, she started the school year with three ISP students in her home, but two have returned to their countries due to the pandemic.
Menzies says Barbora has become a special part of her family and has made working from home more fun for everyone, including her daughter.
“Barbora has formed such a strong bond with all of us. My daughter will be devastated when she has to go back to Europe. We would keep her here forever and ever if we could,” said Menzies.
Coming to Winnipeg was the first time Barbora had crossed the Atlantic. Being so far from home during a challenging time is not easy, but the teen finds comfort in the strong family ties that have been quickly created.
“I can’t say enough good things about my homestay family. The grandparents, Michelle’s aunt and her children have all made my stay in Winnipeg fantastic,” shares Barbora.
Both siblings had a chance to pursue their favorite sports including volleyball, basketball and venue handball before classroom learning was suspended. The friendships formed during practices have now moved to online chats and group calls. Connections that bring extra comfort during this pandemic.
“I’ve met so many new people and they’ve introduced me to their friends too. Shaftesbury students are very welcoming and they all were very supportive of our team,” said Barbaro.
Tess Cordeiro is the director of the International Student Program. Before COVID-19 hit there were 201 students in the ISP program. Currently there are 165 young people, 43 are living with homestay families. Cordeiro and team offer virtual meetings, phone calls and even front yard social distancing visits to support both students and homestay families.
“During this crisis we have heard many times the saying ‘We are all in this together,’ each day our families, students and ISP team bring this phrase to life in inspirational ways, displaying incredible flexibility, resiliency and caring,” shared Cordeiro.
At the Hobson residence, the extra connection and help from ISP staff is welcomed.
“We also have a facilitator from the ISP program that sends things to do online such as virtual museum tours…between course work and trying to get outside for fun we really fill our days,” said Voyta.
Barbora and Voyta are hoping to return to the Czech Republic at the end of June. When asked what they would miss the most about Winnipeg and Pembina Trails, the siblings both agree it is the friends they have made and the opportunity to experience Canadian life.
On behalf of our senior administration team and board of trustees, we would like to thank our homestay families for rising to the challenge and supporting our students studying far from home during COVID-19.