Schools struggling to find homestays for international students

A more than two-year hiatus during the pandemic has made rapidly rebuilding the international education sector challenging, with many schools struggling to find new host families. (File photo)

International students are returning to New Zealand in large numbers since borders reopened, but finding them homes is proving a challenge after the industry’s more than two-year hiatus due to Covid-19.

From a peak of 10,103 international fee-paying school students in 2019, numbers dropped dramatically during the pandemic – down 73% to 2711 last year. It’s now steadily starting to climb again with 5271 international students at New Zealand schools as of mid-April this year.

Wellington High School international homestay manager Di Jordan​ said the rapid rebuild of the international education sector – worth $5 billion to New Zealand before the Covid-19 pandemic – had made finding families challenging.

“There’s certainly more students than there are homes,” she said.

Before Covid-19, the school was home to about 84 international students. This year it has 42, with more set to arrive in July.

Last year’s resurgence after the borders reopened led to an “enormous scramble” to find homes.

“It was exciting, but it certainly presented some significant problems in terms of being able to home these students.”

The January intake had students from Colombia, Brazil, Japan and a few from Mexico, Austria and Italy. It was a challenge, but homes were found for all 42.

Interest in July openings was still ongoing with “daily enquiries”, Jordan said, and students expected to arrive from Germany, Italy, Pakistan, Denmark, Switzerland and China.

Jordan was especially pleased about the return of students from China, with the market having shrunk.

“It really comes down to how many students can the school accommodate within the academic problem and how many can we accommodate within homestays.”

The school places an emphasis homestay experiences that are “inclusive and supportive” with Jordan working hard to match the right people – they don’t just take anyone.

Host families are generally located within the school zone but don’t have to have children of their own attending the same school.

All families are police vetted and homes checked to see they meet government requirements. Host families are paid $320 a week to host the student, which includes providing a bedroom, three meals a day and pastoral care.

“Certainly here in Wellington there is a genuine interest to take an international student into the family home for global reasons,” Jordan said.

It has been easier for larger bodies, like Host Families New Zealand.

“We had a good number of families were ready to accommodate students when the borders reopened,” founder Giovana Reay said​.

However, they had also lost many including about a third of their 6000 families based across Auckland, Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch.

That’s because circumstances change – like the family moving, children leaving home or even returning home, she said.

Reay has about 500 active families – those who have already passed all safety checks – while others have put their profiles on hold.

This helped with the 300 students in homestay, but she said they were “really rushing and trying to get the families ready” for the July intake.

Many secondary schools that had contacted her seemed “quite desperate”, she said.

Source: Stuff