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Learning by living in it

NEW GLASGOW – Roman and Eric sit side by side on the couch watching TV in their New Glasgow home – just like any brothers.

Eric Catalan, left, an international student from Mexico, is shown with his host family – Jack, Roman and Aaron Smith and Dawn Peters – and their pets.

Contented, the younger boy sits close to the older one. Often they can be found watching Friends, which is a favourite show.

One would never know that the two hadn’t grown up together, but in fact, Eric has only been a part of the family since late August.

In that time, they’ve developed a close relationship that also includes Roman’s brother Jack and their parents Dawn Peters and Aaron Smith.

Eric Catalan is an international student from Mexico, who attends North Nova Education Centre. The Grade 12 student said it was easy to fit into the Smith family since he knew them from last year when he also attended the school, as he was a friend of the student they hosted then.

“Eric fits in really well with our family,” said Peters. He’s pretty easy going.”

Catalan, who came to Canada to improve his English, said being totally immersed is the best way to pick up a language. “It’s a lot easier than learning from a textbook because you’re living in it the whole time,” he said.

“You need to speak English to get a decent job in Mexico.”

Catalan is the 12th student hosted by the Smith family through the Nova Scotia International Student Program. “Roman was two-and-a-half when we had our first student from Korea,” said Peters. “Our kids weren’t even in school when we hosted the first one.”

Their first student was a girl eight years ago, but since then, they’ve hosted boys.

They chose to become a host family to expose their children to different cultures. “We live in a small town and we don’t travel, but we wanted our kids to understand different countries, so we thought we’d bring the world to us.”

They’ve hosted students from Germany, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Columbia, Brazil, Sweden, for varying lengths of stay – five months or 10 months – but they prefer the longer duration.

The Smiths keep in touch with most of their former students, and hope to someday travel to those countries to visit them.

Peters said every year they ask their two boys whether they want to host again. “It’s their home they’re sharing with someone else, but they always say yes.”

Roman, who’s in Grade 5 at New Glasgow Academy, said it’s something he’s used to doing. “It’s awesome. We hang out and play games.”

The three boys enjoy playing FIFA soccer on the x-box, and basketball and soccer outside on the street.

“In the summer, the house seems really quiet when the students aren’t here,” said Jack, a Grade 7 student.

“We see it as enhancing our family, not taking away from,” said Peters.

“It does give more life to the house,” she said, adding that even the dog gets depressed when the students leave. “It’s always sad to say goodbye.”

Aaron said: “The benefits are we get to meet a lot of interesting people with different cultures and language, and learn a lot about their country.”

The teacher at New Glasgow Academy said so far all of the students they’ve hosted have had a good grasp of the English language, so they haven’t had any difficulties with that.

He said more of a challenge exists with inserting a new member into the family unit than with cultural differences, although they always keep in mind that other cultures do things differently.

Peters said it takes time to get accustomed to each other, but they’ve learned that clear communication is important, and they use humour to deal with any situations that arise.

Just like any parents, as situations come up, they navigate through them. And they’re always careful to watch the students to make sure they’re not experiencing culture shock.

“Like anything, we’ve learned through experience what potential problems could be,” said Aaron.

“By the time our kids are teenagers, we’ll be quite seasoned,” said Peters.

“I know I'm not their mother, but I treat them like my own. At the end of it, you do feel like family.”

Anyone interested in hosting an international student can contact Dianne McKenzie at 902-759-8642 or by email at

On Twitter: @NGNewsCarol

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