At Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC, there are still more than 150 students in homestay. Classes are being delivered virtually and the university deferred new students for May to the Fall semester.
"Many countries and families are requesting their students return home, so the number of students in homestay is gradually declining," says Marianna Abutalipova, Homestay Supervisor at Thompson Rivers.
Abutalipova has been in touch with all of the students by phone since home visits are not permitted due to social distancing requirements. She's had to remind a few students not to gather in groups in local parks or to invite people over, but for the most part the students and families are coping very well together.
"We were not able to accept new students into on campus residence. As a result, we let our homestay students know that if they have to leave homestay because they are not practicing physical distancing, they may have to head back to their home country," she says.
In homestays, students and hosts are doing their best to cope during a challenging time. "There is a lot of stress," Abutalipova says. "Some students don't have money because they can't work, and in some cases the host have been laid off too."
TRU is providing what financial aid it can, as well as helping students access aid that may be available through provincial or federal government programs. However, if students are unable to pay their homestay fees, Abutalipova recommends they return to their home country during the summer scheduled break. With many nations implementing travel restrictions it's not always possible for students to get home.
Christina Furtado, a Mental Health and Wellness Specialist with keep.meSAFE by Guard.Me, recently delivered a webinar for international educators on how they can stay on an even keel and also help students.
"Social distancing doesn't mean we have to stop our social connections," she said. "We need to figure out how to adapt our daily work and social lives. Rather than giving in to the fears around this new reality with social distancing, we need to get creative about connecting."
Furtado advised that everyone can reduce stress and combat loneliness through four steps:
- Avoid: Try to figure out ways to avoid stress
- Alter: Attempt to change things for the better
- Accept: Accept some difficult parts of the situation
- Adapt: Change expectations to ease stress
As well, she noted that people will be less lonely if they find a meaningful way to occupy their time. Furtado encouraged attendees to reach out for support, do something creative and find sources of comfort.
By participating in the Keep.meSafe by Guard.Me program, educational institutions can offer students 24/7 access to mental health support. It uses linguistically and culturally matched licensed clinicians.
During the pandemic, homestay staff are wondering what comes next and when. Like all of us, Thompson Rivers is hoping that operations will return to normal (or somewhat normal) in the Fall.