Thinking about sending your kid to a foreign country for an international student exchange?
Or maybe you'd like to be the host family for a foreign student.
If so, parents need to know a few of the ground rules.
First off, don't be in a rush to send junior off on the next plane. Applications are made a year in advance and each successful student has to meet certain standards.
Some students come for cultural exchanges and there's no need for educators to pour through school transcripts for equivalency comparisons because those students will return to their home countries after a 10-month school year. In those cases, the school district simply finds age-appropriate placements in the schools. There are no required courses, but proficiency in English is a must.
There are 52 students coming to Prince George this school year for cultural exchanges, some of which have been sponsored by the three Prince George Rotary Clubs. The exchanges are reciprocal, so for each student that arrives another student from Prince George will go to another country within a two-year period.
There are also international fee-paying students like Erwin Lee from Hong Kong (see other story) who come to Canada to advance their educational standing and earn B.C. diplomas, and those students have to follow a prescribed course pattern determined by school counsellors.
The province provides $6,784 in funding to cover tuition costs for each domestic student. All international students are required to pay that and additional instructional fees, bringing the educational cost to $9,000. This year there are nine secondary students and four elementary students in School District 57 schools whose families have paid international fees.
Fee-paying secondary school students must attend the district's English as Second Language classes at PGSS until they reach Grade 8 level or beyond, after which they are free to enroll in their home catchment school.
The school district has a partnership with Shecana International Schools Ltd., of Prince George, which co-ordinates the exchanges. The agency finds the homestay families, and at the expense of the student's family will pay the host family room and board, provide medical insurance, and arrange student transportation.
"For most of the kids it's their first time they've been away from home for any extended period and that can be tough for a 13- or 14-year-old," said Chris Molcak, principal of the Centre for Learning Alternatives.
If homestay families prove unsuitable for the student, Shecana will try to find an alternate home. Students have to qualify for the program and in the screening process Shecana will rule out students with a history of emotional and psychological problems. In only a few cases, due to health concerns or behaviour problems, will an exchange student be sent home early.
Each of the Rotary Club inbound homestays involve three local host families who provide food and lodging for three-month periods. They also arrange 10-month outbound exchanges for Prince George students, as well as a short-term (one-month) exchanges in which students are matched with each other's families in their home countries for one month at either end.
"In some countries, the child will lose a year of education because they won't get any credit for school while they are here," said George Stedeford, new generations director for the Prince George (Downtown) Rotary Club. "But we have them attend school anyway because they are able to interact with kids their own age and their English improves immensely when they're in that kind of atmosphere. It's an extremely good way of keeping them involved and doing things."
Posters to advertise the Rotary exchange programs are going up this month in city schools. Including the flights, parents have to be prepared to pay about $10,000 for a yearlong exchange.
Shecana is always on the lookout for new host families and the agency has had great success retaining some of them. Daryl and Kris Moulder of Prince George have hosted 24 students in more than 15 years and have followed many of them to their European homes.
"They are still in contact with 20 of those students and they have gone to Europe to visit every on of them," said Chelsea Halvorson, Shecana's inbound manager. "The host families are the key to the whole thing. There's just something special about those connections."
For more information go to Shecana's website, shecana.ca.