Foreign students boost Ottawa economy

The number of international students who earn their high school degree in Ottawa is 10 times higher in the 2011-12 school year than about a decade ago.

Each international student expected to spend about $30,000 including admission

Ottawa high schools are seeing an influx of international enrolment. 1:36

The number of international students who come to Ottawa to earn their high school diploma has skyrocketed, injecting money into both the local and national economy.

There are about 480 foreign students this school year at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board compared to just 50 in 2000. The students come from all over the world but the majority find their way from China and Japan.

That rising number translates into an approximate $30,000 boost to the local economy, according to the head of Ottawa's international student program.

International students in the OCDSB

In Canada in 2008, more than 180,000 international students fuelled a $6.5 billion industry, which still lags behind the U.K., Australia and the U.S.

The big winner, according to one Ottawa principal and the school board, are the schools where international students attend.

Schools get big chunk of money for teachers, programs

Of the money brought into the local economy, thousands go directly to the school and help grow its programs and add to its teaching staff.

But the process has its challenges, schools admit, especially when it comes to a student's adjustment period.

Jane Alexander, principal of Brookfield High School in Ottawa, says about 1 in every 10 of her students is an international student. (CBC)

"It's a challenging time of life to be in high school and certainly I expect that being away from your home country and in a new country is even more of a challenge," said Jane Alexander, principal of Brookfield High School in Ottawa.

About ten per cent of Brookfield's student population are international students, which Alexander calls a huge benefit to her school.

Grade 10 student Shun Naito said he chose Brookfield to immerse himself in the English language. There are a limited number of Japanese students there so he can learn the language quicker than other international students.

International students need time to adjust to new country, culture

Naito, who is from Tokyo, Japan, has played sports to help adjust to Canada. He is still a little homesick, though.

2003-2007: International student population increase (%)
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada

"A little bit missing," Naito said in broken English, "But it's for my dream so I can focus to study."

One of the toughest tasks for local programs is finding international students a comfortable place to live. They also need a lot of support while they are here to ease the transition.

"It's like dating," said Geoff Best, who heads Ottawa's student program, "You find the right family, you can stay there or you just don't click. They'll have to move and we do that."

Naito said he has had a fairly smooth transition with his Ottawa family, who come from a Filipino background.

His dream now is to graduate from Brookfield before attending either an American or Canadian university.