The movement toward students studying abroad has become a booming business. And in Campbell River, business is good.
“For more than 28 years we’ve been welcoming international students,” Lori Kubelak, coordinator of Campbell River’s International Student Program, told the School District 72 Board of Education during its regular meeting Tuesday. “But since we decided we’re going to have this program and do it right, we’ve gone from 11 students (in 2010-11) to 45 that will have passed through by the end of this year.”
The International Student Program is much more than the historical student-exchange programs, like those run through Rotary International or Campbell River’s sister city exchange with Ishikari, Japan.
In addition to those non-fee-paying students, the International Program draws students who not only pay tuition, but provide a local economic boost of more than $30,000 per student per year.
And they also provide direct and indirect benefits to fellow students, by helping stabilize declining enrolment and boosting numbers in English language learning programs.
“We’ve come to a point in funding where we want to have full classes to make them run,” said Kubelak. “With the International Student Program we’ve got more students in the school system who want to take those classes, or maybe because of the fees we’ve got a little more flexibility.”
The formal program grew out of sporadic hosting of international students going back nearly three decades. When Campbell River educators decided to formalize the program and begin marketing it to students abroad in the mid-2000s, they were set back initially by the SARS outbreak, followed by the 2008 economic recession.
But since the 2010-11 school year, when those 11 students moved to Campbell River to study, the program has been on an upward trend each year.
“It’s meant some changes for us in the program’s structure,” said Kubelak, a Timberline Secondary School counselor who this year became the program’s first full-time coordinator, when enrolment topped 30 students. “When we started, Jo-Anne Preston was the coordinator, but she was still teaching; there was no time for a full-time coordinator. We still had a part-time secretary, and our homestay coordinator and activity coordinator were doing a little bit of work.
“Those people are still there, and now they’re doing a larger volume of work.”
As coordinator, Kubelak travels to international fairs where education agents seek out schools to match with students seeking educational opportunities abroad. She has to sell Campbell River’s school system as well as the lifestyle and the amenities the community offers in comparison to some larger population centres.
In response to a question from School Board Chair Susan Wilson, Kubelak noted many students seek out the big cities like, say Vancouver. And not strictly for academics.
“Bigger districts can offer things like international baccalaureate programs, advanced placement courses and different things we can’t offer,” she said. “Mostly, it’s shopping we can’t offer. We can’t compete with Robson Street.”
On the other hand, as Superintendent Tom Longridge pointed out, Campbell River is the only district in the province with a working agreement with the city of Taipei, Taiwan.
“The City of Taipei actually sponsors and pays the tuition of five students,” said Longridge. “We have the only model like that in B.C.”
Approximately 98 per cent of the international students live with host families in the community, who are paid $750 per month per student.
“This program, from the outset, has been self-sustaining, including all the salaries associated with it,” said Longridge. “The board puts nothing into its development.”
Kubelak said of the students in the program, 40 per cent are Chinese-speaking, 35 per cent come from German-speaking regions, 15 per cent are Portugese speakers from Brazil, and 10 per cent are Spanish-speaking, from Spain and Mexico.
“Personally, my goal is to have more Japanese students,” said Kubelak, noting two Japanese student are currently enrolled through the sister city program with Ishikari. “I think we should have Vietnamese students, Koreans — there’s a lot of areas we can get students from that we haven’t reached yet.”