Living and learning in a foreign country can be an invaluable experience for a young person and, as part of the Rocky Mountain International Student Program (ISP), there are currently about 15 international students living and attending school in Invermere.
“From my perspective, [the goal is] to give as many kids an opportunity to be really immersed in the culture that we have, to really share it with the kids for a really good experience,” said Lori Sluth, the program’s homestay co-ordinator. “We want everyone to feel like they had the time of their lives while they were here.”
The ISP shouldn’t be confused with a student exchange, as no Canadian students are sent back to the respective countries. Instead, a select group of vigorously screened host families take on the responsibility of taking an international student into their home. Students are not allowed to work, but do attend school and are very much encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities like sports. Some students even spend their time volunteering, said Sluth.
“Students have to be good students, and they have to be willing to participate when they get here,” she said. “That’s the main thing, we want them to be immersed in Canadian culture, so we want them out skating, or skiing, or hiking, and we want them being involved with the community and their families.”
Students stay for varying amounts of time, and many do trial runs to see if they can stand living in another country away from family and friends. The program expanded to Invermere about five years ago after a very successful run in Kimberley, and the Invermere program currently takes about 20 to 30 international students a year. Students must also have some proficiency in English to be eligible.
Sixteen-year-old Niklas Beese arrived in January from Hamburg and said he has thoroughly enjoyed his time living in Invermere. He was nervous at first about his English proficiency and being away from his family, but as time went by, he’s come to love the small-town atmosphere of Invermere.
“I really like it here and I like the small community, it’s very different to Hamburg, which is a big community,” Beese said. “Here in Invermere, everybody knows everybody, so everyone is nice and kind to each other.”
Meanwhile, Alvaro Novoa-Torrente arrived in September from Madrid, Spain and said he just loves how many new people he’s met and new friends he’s made. He’s also made good use of his time, participating in a wide range of sports, but said the hardest part will probably come when he has to leave.
“When I leave, I’ll have to say bye to all my friends, and that’s tough,” Novoa-Torrente said.
Sluth agreed that the toughest part about the program was seeing the kids leave at the end of their terms. She said while not all the kids find a brand new culture enjoyable all the time, they do seem extremely fascinated by the way we live our everyday lives. She added that she gets great feedback from everyone who has been involved with the program, and nearly all the kids have stayed in touch in one way or another.
“I have kids and families who go to the airport and are inconsolable, they don’t want to go home,” Sluth said. “I think all the kids go back with their eyes wide open.”
The program is always looking for more host families to get involved and anyone interested is asked to contact Sluth at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 250-688-0790.