Val Trombley has traveled the world from the cozy confines of her three-bedroom home in Castlegar. Over the last 17 years, her journey is rich with culture and the people she’s met along the way.
Selkirk College is currently accepting applications for area residents interested in taking international students for homestays. The program offers lasting rewards for both the student and the families who offer to immerse these visiting young people into Canadian culture.
Val Trombley (middle) with her two current homestay students Jasmine Chen (left) and Narusa Hasegawa (right). Chen is from Taiwan and enrolled in the Resort & Hotel Management Program. Hasegawa is from Japan and enrolled in the English Language Program.
Trombley’s entry into the homestay program arrived innocently enough shortly after moving to Castlegar almost two decades ago.
“One day in the mail there was this big pink piece of paper that came to the mailbox that asked: Are you interested in being a homestay parent? I thought, what the hec,” she says.
Today, the walls of Trombley’s home are lined with pictures from her time spent with the 65 students who have lived at her home while they studied at Selkirk College.
When the World Arrives to the West Kootenay-Boundary
Selkirk International welcomes students from all over the world to its campuses each semester. From India to Taiwan and Brazil to China, students arrive keen to learn in the classrooms and in their new communities.
Students who come from afar have many options for living accommodations, but one of the most popular is homestay. Each semester the college places 25 to 40 students in families and with individuals who are looking to enrich their lives through a cultural exchange.
“Our host families are key to the success of the program,” says Tessa Bendig, International Student Services Coordinator for Selkirk College. “Our students appreciate the many ways their host families make them feel at home while studying in Canada. The after school and weekend activities, great quality food and supportive home environments provided by our host families are often among the highlights of our student’s experiences in the Kootenays.”
Homestay participants are expected to provide the students a private room, three meals a day and laundry facilities. Homestay placements can last anywhere from three to eight months.
Hooked on the Homestay Experience
When Trombley was accepted to the program 17 years ago, she was not sure what to expect. Recently separated from her husband and with her own children grown up and living in Saskatchewan, it was an experiment she entered with apprehension.
Trombley and her first international student Naoko Kumamoto. The two continue to stay in touch.
Naoko Kumamoto was Trombley’s first student in 1997. The 18-year-old arrived from Japan and it didn’t take long for the two to hit it off.
“She was awesome,” says Trombley. “If she was a student that caused me some trouble it might have turned out different, but she set the bar very high.”
Trombley says Naoko enriched her life and provided memories that are still fresh in her mind all these years later. It also helped send her down a pathway of many more international experiences.
Trombley’s commitment to the program has grown over the years to the point where she even moved to a larger home so she could take two students each semester.
“I prefer to have two because the more noise in my house the better,” she says.
Over the years she has taken students from Sweden, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil and Chile, but the majority arrive from Japan and South Korea. And though she has taken a male student on occasion, it’s primarily females that come to stay with her.
“With girls it’s easy and we have things in common,” Trombley says. “We talk about boyfriends and relationships and shopping and cooking… with boys it’s much more difficult.”
Challenges Only Deepen the Bonds
Taking in international students comes with challenges and it’s not always easy. The primary issue most homestay families deal with is communication struggles.
“For me it’s like having my own children so you need to have compassion,” says Trombley. “You also have to have a lot of patience because the language barrier can be very restricting. One student I had, we could only draw pictures for the first couple of weeks to communicate.”
With students moving a world away, there are also the odd tears that come with the new reality.
“They are fine until the end of the first month,” says Trombley. “I can tell when we are having dinner, I can look across and know there is something that is not right. Most of the girls are pretty reluctant to bring it up, but after a few questions the tears start and I have to comfort them. I just have to reassure them that being homesick is a totally natural thing and it happens to almost everyone.”
Relationships that Last a Lifetime
Trombley keeps in touch with many of the students who have stayed with her over the years. She emails with them on a regular basis and shares in their highs and lows after they leave the Kootenays.
Four years ago Trombley travelled to Japan and South Korea with a friend who also takes homestay students. They met up with 20 former students who rented them a condo and paid for everything along the way as a gift for their kindness.
Trombley treats the homestay students like her own children and in turn they call her mom.
“It was a huge eye-opener,” Trombley says of her vacation to Asia. “You can talk about it with them, but when you get there it’s a whole different experience. The culture shock is something you can’t get from just talking to the girls about their homes.”
When Trombley talks about those who have lived with her, a huge smile comes across her face. The rewards of making the effort are obvious and run deep.
“They all call me mom… it’s very sweet,” she says. “I hope we always have international students. I don’t know what I would do without my students. It would be very sad.”