Back to school 2015: International student numbers surge in Toronto

Ontario schools attract thousands of international students each year, hoping to bring an infusion of culture and cash to the province.

8,000-plus foreign students to attend Ontario's schools this year, including more than 3,000 in GTA

Gina King is one of about 8,000 international students expected in Ontario schools this year, and is considering attending the University of Toronto in two years' time. (CBC)

Enrolment of international students in Ontario grade schools has been climbing steadily since 2010, with more than 8,000 foreign students expected in classrooms across the province on Tuesday.

In fact, some Toronto school boards have been sending recruiters overseas to attract high school students here. Officials claim its a win-win situation, providing opportunities for local and international students, all while enriching society and bringing in money.

Students pay an average of $14,000 a year to study here.

Gina King, a 16-year-old from southern China, starts Grade 11 Tuesday at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School, one of about 70 international students at the school.

She's one of an estimated 1,250 international students in the Toronto Catholic District School system. That's up from just 30 students five years ago and about halfway to the board's goal of 2,400, which it hopes to reach in a decade. 

Gina said she chose Canada because of its friendly reputation.

"I love Western culture and Canada has better education in high school. Period," she said. "Maybe the United States have the best colleges but they don't have nice high schools so I chose Canada." 

She said it's a growing trend in China — the home country to the vast majority of the foreign students — for parents to send children overseas for a better life.

"I'll hopefully be here for two years and hopefully I can get into a good university like U of T or something," she said. "My first dream is to be a lawyer, but I'm still young so we'll see." 

Lucia and David Francisco, Gina's homestay parents, say they love the connection they've already forged with Gina, learning about her family and culture and childhood.

'An overwhelming experience'

"We share stories so we don't feel like there's a stranger living in our home, which is nice," Lucia said. "This week Gina and I picked her courses together, so I was happy to be able to help with that because it can be an overwhelming experience."

Being an international student can be difficult, they said.

"They're coming thousands of miles and they're coming on their own," Lucia said. "It's a way to give back to that student who is taking on this major challenge in their life."

Teresa Chung, a resource teacher with the board's International Education Program, said the biggest issue is culture shock.

Lucia and David Francisco, who are billeting Gina King, say they recognize that being an international student can be challenging. (CBC)

"They are teenagers, so they have the same problems as any teenagers, Canadian or from the world around," she said. "There are cultural problems. They may not understand something. Like when the students first arrive you might say, 'Let's go to Tim Hortons. The student may say, 'Who is Tim Hortons?'"

The Toronto District School Board and York Region District School Board also attract large amounts of international students.

York's numbers were not immediately available, but the TDSB expects about 1,700 students this year, up from about 1,100 five years ago.

​Alex Mazzucco with the Catholic board says the provincial and federal governments provide financial support for the program, which shows no signs of slowing.

"Chinese parents are actually looking for next September now," he said. "Many parents from mainland China will start signing their students up in September and October for the following September."

John Yan, also with the Catholic board, said it will be interesting to see if China's recent financial troubles affect international numbers, though the board does also have students from Europe, South America and Latin America.

Yan said the program doesn't take spaces from local students. If a school is full, the international student is placed in a different school.