Their relationship forms a bridge that stretches from Squamish to Kosovo, to Rwanda and beyond.
Squamish couple Jim and Claire Harvey signed up for Quest University’s Squamish Host Family program and first met international students Poema Kazazi, from Kosovo, and Carlos Kagame, from Rwanda, about three years ago when the students were in their first year at the school.
“We got involved because we’ve led an international life and right from the start of this school we were interested in the educational program… [Continuing] an international life, vis–à–vis the international students,” said Jim Harvey, while he sat comfortably chatting with the students up at Quest on Friday. “We had no idea the kind of students we were going to get. We have been blessed. It has been great.”
The Harveys are outdoor enthusiasts and have included Kazazi and Kagame on some of their backcountry adventures.
“We’ve done lots of hiking. We’ve done night hiking with headlamps and we went out camping on a ridge and had a big fire,” Harvey said.
The relationship meant a lot of firsts for Kagame, who had never hiked before.
“I had never seen snow before, only on TV,” he said.
His favourite memory so far is of tobogganing, even though he ended up going over an embankment and hurting his leg, Kagame recalled with a laugh.
The Harveys offer Kagame a connection to his home country as well, he said, because they lived in Africa for seven years.
“They know what I am talking about. They understand me and that is really good to have people who have that kind of experience,” Kagame said.
Other activities with the Harveys have included the more routine family dinners and excursions to Whistler for movies.
The couple, who have children close in age to the students, have also shown up for presentations or events the international students are involved in as a way of sitting in for their own parents who are so far away.
The bond between the Harveys and Kazazi was strengthened when the Harveys visited her family at their beach house in Albania last summer while the Harveys were on a six-month biking trip abroad.
“It was so nice,” said Kazazi. “I always say I have two lives. One is my life back home – my family, my relatives, my friends back to the end of high school – and then my life in Canada, which includes Quest, my friends here and Jim’s family. And so for the first time ever I saw those two lives interact and it was really special for me.”
Volunteer host families don’t have to be as involved as the Harveys to have a positive impact on their international students, according to Will Prescott, coordinator of international student services at the university. Squamish host families need only commit to meeting with their students once a month.
“If you have a dog it could literally be come join us and walk our dog for an hour today or just come join us for our Sunday dinner. So, it is stuff you are already doing,” Prescott said.
The program is currently looking for host family volunteers for this year’s crop of international students. To get involved or for more information about the program, contact Prescott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-898-8104.