British Columbia

International students trickling back to B.C. under loosened restrictions on school districts

Stella She landed in Kamloops, B.C., in November to study Grade 12 after schools across the province reopened to international students.

Enrolment is half of pre-pandemic days, but 12,000 foreign students have still registered since September

Stella She, left, an international student from Taiwan, studies Grade 12 at South Kamloops Secondary School and stays with homestay host parent Shelly Mattis. (Submitted by Shelly Mattis)

While the number of foreign students in B.C. has fallen dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, some school districts are faring better than others in attracting primary and secondary students.

Kamloops in the province's southern Interior, for instance, is down by 36 per cent compared to Vernon, about 100 kilometres away, which lost almost 60 per cent of its foreign students in the current academic year.

Vancouver is down a mere 29 per cent, according to figures supplied to CBC News by 10 school districts

Stella She, an 18-year-old from Hsinchu, Taiwan, is one of the almost 12,000 young people from outside Canada to enrol in a B.C. school this academic year — half the number of the previous year, according to provincial data.

After two months of online remote learning from the East Asian island state, She arrived in November to study Grade 12 at South Kamloops Secondary School which, like all other primary and secondary schools across the province, was approved by the federal government to reopen to international students in October.

She flew nearly 10,000 kilometres across the Pacific with the goal of honing her English language skills, enriching herself in the more open learning environment here and, ultimately, attending a Canadian university.

"In Canada there's more group talking, and we can communicate with our classmates and discuss the concepts of the course," She said. "But in Taiwan, we usually just do it [studying] individually."

Taiwan has largely kept its daily new cases of COVID-19 in the single digits since the pandemic began in early 2020, a far cry from the hundreds of cases per day in B.C. since last fall.

South Kamloops Secondary School, like other schools across the province, has been approved by the federal government to reopen to international students. (Google street view)

She admits she made her decision with trepidation.

"I feel frustrated and scared," She said. "Before I went [onto] the airplane, I [took] a look [at] the news of the COVID-19 in Canada … the people tested positive were still increasing."

Now she's living with Kamlops homestay parent Shelly Mattis, who has hosted students from Brazil, Germany and Switzerland over the last decade.

Mattis says she strictly followed the COVID-19 protocols when the Taiwanese student joined her two-person family — which includes her daughter who is studying at a local university — for a government-mandated 14-day quarantine.

"She [went] straight to the room that she [would] be staying in," Mattis said. "She literally only was using the washroom and her own bedroom for that full two weeks, and when I provided meals, I would leave everything outside of her bedroom." 

Mattis says they are no longer wearing masks inside the house as they did during the quarantine, because they have formed a core family bubble after staying together for months.

Mattis says she regrets not being able to introduce She to dinner parties with her extended family in Kamloops due to the current provincial ban on social gatherings. 

To compensate, she's tried to make the international student feel welcome by decorating She's bedroom with all sorts of Canadian memorabilia. And then there's cuddling Mattis's cat Theo, a new companion She enjoys.

Stella She has enjoyed getting to know Theo, the cat, at her homestay. (Submitted by Shelly Mattis)

 "During the holidays, we did our family traditional things like making gingerbread houses, which she had never done before," Mattis said.

The host family and She also plan to celebrate the Lunar New Year — which is major holiday in Taiwan.

Tap the link below to hear Kent Brewer, principal of international student program in Kamloops school district, on Daybreak Kamloops

Kent Brewer, principal of international student program of Kamloops school district, speaks to Shelley Joyce with the latest on foreign students coming to the Thompson region. 6:37