Our First Guest

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She is a lovely, sweet young Korean woman named Michelle (not her real “Canadian” name).  We met this evening and I immediately got a good feeling about her, in large part because she likes my dog.  And in small part because she hates bugs.  She would fit right in here!

But first, the requisite back story.

My partner and I had decided to move in together; that is to say, my partner, his teenage daughter, his tween son, my teenage daughter, and I.  Oh ya, and let’s not forget Bambi the wonder dog.  Sounds crazy simple enough, combining two longstanding single-parent households into one seamless functional bi-cultural family unit.  Well… let’s just say we aren’t anything even remotely resembling the Brady Bunch!

In fact, not simple by any stretch of the imagination, and definitely not simple when you consider the task of finding a house to rent in the Lower Mainland that would work for us.  An entire blog, let alone a single blog post, could and surely has already been written about the dismal state of the rental market in Metro Vancouver.  So I will leave this topic to someone far more cynical informed than I on such matters.  Suffice it to say that we had our work cut out for us.

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But God (or whatever benevolent being you believe in) must have had a lull in his/her schedule at that moment in time, because we somehow stumbled upon the perfect house: a half-duplex that had been completely renovated with 5 bedrooms (in truth, one more than we actually needed), two and a half bathrooms (both a luxury and a necessity, with three kids in the house), two living rooms, laundry, a deck and a small yard, parking for two cars and free street parking, and a huge kitchen with new appliances.  We were even allowed Bambi.  Literally every item on our wish list!

Every item, that is, except affordable rent!  Whoever said two can live more cheaply than one has never lived in Metro Vancouver.

Since we would be located close to two high schools and two post secondary institutions, we naturally had the brilliant idea of hosting a student.  So we checked with our landlord, signed the lease and moved in.  Then started our research.

Homestays represent a significant industry in British Columbia, with nearly 17,000 students in K to 12 participating in homestay programs.  It is estimated that in 2008, “… homestays [brought] in $60-million a year in B.C. alone, though other estimates [were] in the billion-dollar range.”  Until recently, the industry had been largely unregulated and unmonitored, leaving the screening of homestay families entirely at the discretion of placement agencies and school districts (Perils await foreign students in Canadian homes, study shows; The Globe and Mail; Published: Tuesday, Jul. 13, 2010 11:08AM EDT).  Each agency or district conducts its own evaluation and inspection of potential hosts, but there was no regulatory body that oversaw the safety of the students.  In August 2010, British Columbia became the first province to introduce guidelines for kindergarten to Grade 12 homestay programs (B.C. establishes K-12 homestay guidelines for international studentsCBC News; Posted: Aug 28, 2015 4:01 PM PT).  It’s quite frightening to consider that many young people coming to Canada to study, with little supervision and protection.  In fact, international students are considerably more at risk than their domestic peers of suffering sexual abuse, abusing drugs and/or alcohol and engaging in risky behaviour.

We quickly learned that becoming a host family of an international high school student would require a significant level of responsibility and commitment and was not something to be taken lightly.  Minors require guardianship, which would fall to the host parents.  They require a significant level of supervision, as much if not more than our own children do.  And then there are all the meals, homework, school and cultural activities!  Being a family with a busy schedule of soccer and dance practices, games, outings, social obligations, etc., etc., etc., we soon realized that hosting an international student would be akin to adopting another teenager, and we honestly doubted we could take on this task and retain our sanity!

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via GIPHY

We decided instead to host an adult student.  So we searched for agencies, listing sites, guidelines and recommendations.  We outfitted the room with all that a visiting student would need: a bed, a desk, a wardrobe, a light.  We had an extra microwave, blender and iron, so we added those items to the room.  We made it welcoming, cosy, comfortable.  We drafted listings, took photos, created accounts.  We were all set.  All we needed was a student.  Messages were sent out to prospects, some were returned, most were not.  Time passed, the room remained empty.  More messages.  A few more responses.  More messages.  I grew anxious.  Would the room remain empty?  Would we have to “adopt” a high school student?  We’ve never done this before; what were we missing?  Were we asking too much?  Are we too far from downtown?  I needn’t have worried.  About two months after listing, we finally had a serious inquiry.

Messages back and forth and an exchange of basic information ensued: the room, the rate, what’s included, the location, and with every message I sent, thoughts of “safety” in the back of my mind.  How much can I tell someone I have never met without risking my children’s safety, my own safety and the security of our home?  How do I know they are who they say they are, and not someone with more sinister intentions?  It’s a sad fact of our society that trust is incredibly difficult to establish between strangers.  I believe that this may be the single most isolating characteristic of our modern age: the inability to trust another person.  And for a young woman travelling to another country for the first time, completely on her own, without knowing a single soul?  I can’t even imagine…

Then last night she arrived, out of the pouring rain, all smiles, shy giggles and apologies, speaking in shattered English.  We all liked her immediately, especially Bambi.  She is in Canada on a working vacation, having never been outside of Asia, to learn about Canada, to improve her English, to make new friends and to experience Canadian culture first-hand.  After a tour of the house, a somewhat challenging discussion to address her and our questions and concerns, she agreed to take the room.  She moves in on Sunday, just in time to experience our non-traditional Mexi-Canadian Thanksgiving celebration!  We warned her: this would not be a quiet relaxing day to arrive.  The house will be noisy, full of laughter, music and dancing, she would meet many people, there will be children running around, and we will all be up very late.  She is in for quite a welcoming!

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