Carla D’Angelo is one of 15 international students in Muskoka, with another 10 to 15 expected to arrive in September with the help of MLI Homestay.
The 17-year-old has lived in Huntsville with the Allen family for the past three months and will return home in June. She’s studying at Huntsville High School. Other students are taking classes at Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School.
The organization, also known as Muskoka Language International Homestay, was founded in 1994. Jodi Anderson, Community Engagement and Social Media Specialist with MLI, explains they bring in students from all over the world. “They want to get into the day-to-day life of what it’s like to live in a Canadian home as varied as it always is,” she explains. ‘They want to just enjoy all the cultures that are here to be offered whether it’s Friday night games night and pizza making, going to a maple syrup farm, or whatever it is the family is doing. They want to be integrated into the family’s life.”
“My daughters are 12 and 8, so I haven’t gotten into those teen years yet so that was a little nerve-wracking,” Jacki Allen, who doubles as D’Angelo’s host and as MLI’s coordinator in Huntsville, says.
“In Rome, I lived in a big city with three million people, and now I’ve moved to a town of 20,000 people,” she says, adding that it was difficult to adapt at first. Since then, she’s met friends and is thankful that her host family has been supportive. “They are so nice with me,” she says.
When D’Angelo first got to town, Allen says she barely knew English and the culture gap was obvious. “When she first arrived she said something silly like ‘you have to shower her hands’ and we all started laughing and said ‘you have to wash your hands,'” she says.
Allen says she’s noticed how, at first, D’Angelo had a difficult time adapting. “She would come home and be so tired from trying to listen and comprehend the language all day,” she explains. Now, Allen says D’Angelo is engrained in the family. She adds that D’Angelo will often cook for them “She has been a little nervous to try our Canadian Italian food because I’m learning that as Canadians we overcook our pasta,” she says.
Along with D’Angelo, Anderson says there is a large group of Spanish students that were brought over this year, along with quite a few from Japan, and a strong group from Germany. Other countries represented include Austria, Turkey, Belgium, Mexico, and China.
“It’s been a wonderful experience so far,” D’Angelo says.
“Some of them have travelled here before but most of them have never travelled to Canada,” Anderon says. “It’s a huge shock.”
Some, she adds, have never had to wear a winter coat. Anderson points out that so much is different here.
“It’s a huge experience, but for the most part it goes really well,” Anderson says.
“A lot of times they stay in touch with their host families,” Anderon says. “I’ve heard stories about some hosts going to a wedding in Brazil. They still stay in touch once they have their own family.”
D’Angelo says, while she loves Huntsville, she misses her hometown. Jokingly, she says she can’t handle Canadian winters because of how cold they get. In Italy, she says the winter months are a little warmer.
While the goal of hosting an international student is to teach them about Canadian culture, Allen says she and her family have learned just as much about D’Angelo’s culture. “It’s definitely a two-way street,” Allen says.