Improving everyday life for international students
Whether they’re living at home with their families, with a caregiver or in a homestay, most international students in New Zealand schools are enjoying the experience.
The 2015 International Student Barometer (ISB) survey for the school sector found 92% of students were happy with their current living arrangements.
Students were also happy with making friends at school with people from other countries (94%), receiving help from their homestay families on other issues (93%), the quality of their accommodation and the relationship with their homestay families (both 92%).
But students were least likely to be happy with the school bus service (79%), making friends at school with New Zealand students (80%) and the facilities for religious worship (81%).
The survey was commissioned by Education New Zealand to explore the decision-making, expectations, perceptions and experiences of more than 2,000 students aged 16 and over.
Three schools that scored highly in the living category - Burnside High School, Hamilton Boys’ High School and Macleans College - share their suggestions for improving students’ experiences of living in New Zealand.
Developing strong relationships with host families
Burnside High School
Communication is key to improving international students’ daily lives, says Diane George, Homestay Coordinator at Burnside High School in Christchurch.
“With homestays, you need to keep in touch with hosts and students,” says Diane.
“Deal with problems as well as you can as soon as you can, so everyone knows what’s happening and understands that the situation is being well handled.”
Diane responds to every host inquiry, phone call or email the day it’s received, to prevent issues becoming more serious.
The school has a tight-knit team of four staff for its 135 international students, 109 of whom live in homestays. Diane says they all know what’s going on with each student, so if someone’s away there’s always another team member able to step in to help.
“You can’t have people working independently. We have to be here for the kids, which means being consistent in what we tell them and what we tell our hosts.”
Burnside has 80-90 host families, and encourages them to talk to each other and build their own support networks. It holds two events for homestay families each year: one with students and one without.
The school also interviews students once a term to ask if there’s anything that isn’t going well, whether it relates to their homestay or their learning.
To help international students make friends, all international student arriving in the May, July or October intakes are given a buddy either from their form class or from the same year level. If they don’t have a buddy, international student leaders can assist.
Year 13 international students apply to become an international student leader, with one or two chosen from each country. They help the international team with orientation, functions, translations and other responsibilities.
International students are also encouraged to join sports, music or cultural clubs.
“Kay, the receptionist for the international team, calls herself the CEO of the front desk, and will take a student to a club or activity if she thinks they need that extra support. Everyone wants international students to be independent, but it’s important to be there for them if they need some extra help,” says Diane.
Using international income to improve students’ lives
Hamilton Boys’ High School
Hamilton Boys’ High School has improved life for its international students by building a kitchen for them in the rear of one of the ESOL classrooms.
Tonia Heeps, Director of International Students, says the kitchen was paid for with funds from international student fees.
“Most of the international students like a hot lunch,” she says. “The boys use the kitchen a lot and really appreciate it, and our senior students take turns to be on duty. It is not a new idea and I am sure many schools have these facilities. It is important that our international students see that we are doing our best to meet their needs.”
Other initiatives introduced to improve international students’ experience of living in New Zealand include making it compulsory for each boy to sign up for at least one extra-curricular activity, and holding regular events for students, homestay families and teachers.
“We did a cooking night for homestay parents, with two homestay parents showing other parents how to cook a Thai and a Chinese dish for their students,” Tonia says.
“It was a chance for homestay parents to get things off their chest and have a fun evening together.”
The school also runs a camp for all its international students and English language teachers at the beginning of the year.
“I had been mulling the idea over for several years and it was only when I got talking with Annette Roff, International Director from Tauranga Boys’ College, that I was inspired to make it happen. It’s great when we’re able to share ideas with other schools so that collectively we can keep improving the quality of our service for our international students,” says Tonia.
Resolving homestay issues quickly
Macleans College students have a new international department where they can discuss homestay issues and sort out any other concerns fast and effectively.
International students are distributed throughout the Auckland school’s eight whānau houses, which Deputy Principal Melissa Irving says helps them to integrate well with domestic students and access the school’s comprehensive pastoral care system.
“Our new international department is not primarily an area where students can go to mix and mingle, because we expect them to do that in their whānau house,” she says.
“The international department is the place to go if students need to see any of our eight staff, including our dedicated International student guidance counsellor, or discuss an issue about their homestay or anything else. It has made our staff much more accessible to students.
“There is a clear five-step process to carefully guide the students through a possible change of homestay and feedback is always gathered early in this process. This allows us to fully assess the students homestay needs and provide helpful advice on all aspects of living with a Kiwi family.”
Top tips for improving students’ experience of living in New Zealand
● Encourage international students to take part in extra-curricular activities as a way of meeting domestic students.
● Keep the lines of communication open with homestay families so problems are resolved before they have a chance to become more serious.
● Consider hosting social events or other activities where students, homestay families and teachers can get to know each other informally.