KELOWNA, B.C. – With deficits running high, school districts around the province are looking to make cuts. But School District 23 in the Central Okanagan is looking to address its fiscal issues by bringing in more students from across the world to generate revenue.
“Over the years, it’s been to the tune of millions of dollars that have been pumped back into our system by having these students as guests in our community,” said Dr. Rick Oliver, head of the Central Okanagan’s international student program.
“It’s the number one revenue generator for this school district.”
“International education is a big business,” said Oliver. “Canada is a bit late in the game but our market share is growing.”
Currently, the Central Okanagan School District has 435 international students enrolled among more than 22,000 in the district, equating to 320 full time student positions. While most spend the entire school year in the school district, some only spend eight weeks.
Tuition for a full year is $12,500. Host families are provided $750 per month for housing and food expenses which increases to $800 per month for the 2016-17 school year. Students are responsible for their own medical coverage ($900 per year) and extra-curricular expenses.
“Education in Canada is very highly ranked around the world,” Oliver said. “In fact, in terms of English-speaking countries, it would be regarded as number one.”
As word gets out about Canadian education, news about the weather and experience in the Okanagan is too.
The Central Okanagan School District is now in need of more host families.
“The family that takes students in wants the student to be part of their family and they’re willing to devote some time and energy to working with teenagers,” said Oliver.
West Kelowna’s Fieseler family has hosted seven international students in the last five years; five from Germany and two from Mexico.
“My daughter moved out and we had a spare room and my house was just a little bit too quiet,” says Kathleen Fieseler.
The experience means the family has made new friends and become tourists in their own town.
“Because you want to show people from another country our wonderful Canada,” said Fieseler, a mother of three. “It makes you kind of research things and look up stuff, ‘oh, what can we do this weekend?'”
Natalia Gutierrez, a 16-year-old from Mexico City, is the Fieseler’s current guest, having hosted her sister two years prior.
She has enjoyed learning about Canadian culture, making new friends, both among the other international students and local teens, and being treated as one of the family.
“In Mexico, I live only with my mom, so here I have a mom and dad together, so it’s cool,” Gutierrez said.
The food has taken some getting used to.
“They cook a lot of chicken, and we do like different things. We’re spicy.”
And having to do her own laundry and clean her own room has been different as well, growing up with maids and cooks in Mexico City.
“That’s new for me,” Gutierrez said with a laugh, noting her mother didn’t feel sorry for her at all.
She said she will miss everything about her experience when she returns to Mexico at the end of the school year.
Fieseler said she keeps in touch with all the students who have stayed with her.
“I get ‘Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Birthday!'”
She highly recommends the program for anyone wanting to meet new people and contribute to an international understanding of the Okanagan.
“I think any type of family. You don’t have to be a mom and dad. You can be a single mom. You can be grandparent. You can be a retired couple, whatever,” said Feiseler. “If you just want to bring somebody into your home, be prepared. You’ll need to drive them places. It’s like having your own child.”
For more information about the School District 23 (Central Okanagan) international student program, click here, or call 250-470-3258.