Andressa Costa, born in Fortaleza, Brazil is an international student currently studying at Thousand Island Secondary School (TISS) in Brockville through the Upper Canada District International Education Program. Andressa first arrived to Brockville when she was 15 years old, and has been living with Lee and Meghan Sample, her homestay parents for the past three years. Andressa originally came to Canada to learn English, “I was supposed to only come for one year and then go back, but then I really liked it. So I decided to stay another year, and then I decided to just graduate here. I want to go to university in Canada next fall” she said.
One of the main reasons Andressa decided to stay in Brockville to continue her studies was that she felt safe here and enjoys the freedom that comes with that feeling of security. She went on to explain that, “15 years old in Canada do stuff that 15 years old wouldn’t do in Brazil, like walk alone. In Brazil, that’s not a thing, being able to get a bike and go to school.” The school system and structure is different as well she said, in Brazil students take 15 subjects, versus here it’s 4 per semester. “I like the structure of the classes here better, we have more projects instead of tests” she added. Andressa also commented on the class sizes, where in her hometown in Brazil classes sizes are much bigger, with 50 students rather than 30 here, “the teachers are closer to you” she said.
Andressa is very involved at school with clubs and sports. In grade 10 she tried rugby and cheerleading. She has been a member of Student Council since grade 11 and is also a member of the outdoor club. Andressa is also a key member of the school’s ‘Aquity club’ – a club that works to make the school a better place for all students – LGBTQ, international students, etc. and it promotes a culture of acceptance.
When asked what she enjoyed the least about high school, Andressa, who is now in grade 12, said she has a lot to do right now, from looking for scholarships to researching universities, all on top of her regular school assignments. She added that even though she has been here for 3 years, English still isn’t her first language, so it always takes her a bit longer than Canadian-born students. Andressa added, “I feel lost when it comes to apply for university in Canada – international kids do not have a lot of help”. “I feel like we [international kids] miss out on opportunities for scholarships”. Andressa added that she would like to see the school expand more assistance and guidance for international students navigating university applications. Math and science are Andressa’s favourite subjects, her dream is to go to medical school and become a doctor in Canada.
We asked Andressa to tell us about her homestay experience. As mentioned above, Andressa has been living with Lee and Meghan Sample for the past three years. “They are young, it feels more like friendship than parents to me, and they let me have the freedom to do what we want” she said. Andressa participated in the couples wedding and also invited Lee and Meghan to Brazil to meet her family and visit her country. “They always try to bring the Canadian experience, like taking us to big family parties at Christmas and trying eggnog” she added. She discovered the Canadian delicacy, poutine, with them “it’s the little things that makes Canada what it is” she said.
When asked if she would recommend a homestay to other international students, she said yes. “My parents have been great, but having friends who are also in the program, I don’t think they educate the host parents enough about the student’s culture”. Andressa believes that there needs to be education from both sides. She says the reason for her positive experience with the Sample’s is because they respect each other. “They respect the fact that I am Brazilian, I speak loud, I am crazy, and I respect them and follow their rules” she said.
Though Andressa understands that difficulties in forming connections can be combination of internal factors such as shyness or poor English-language ability, she also wishes that her peers at school were more open and culturally sensitive. “I see some kids – they don’t know where we came from or how much we pay to be here – or they don’t want to know. They think we come here because we have a lot of money or think we are refugees”. She added, “It’s not so much with me because I have an outgoing personality, but I see it with other international kids, they struggle with making Canadian friendships – because I feel like the Canadians don’t make the first step to understand our culture”.
We asked Andressa if she had any suggestions of ways to get Canadian and international students to engage with each other, she said “I feel like we should do a mandatory class in school, like in grade nine we are required to take a civics and careers class”. “We should encourage people to come back to their roots, encourage people to be different, give them the opportunity to learn about their heritage”. Another suggestion of hers was to have an assembly, “every year we have assemblies about alcohol or drinking and driving, we should have one about learning about our neighbours, respecting and appreciating other countries and cultures.”
We asked Andressa what she likes and dislikes about Brockville as a city. She said, “I like how it’s cute, small, I love King Street and downtown.” However, like many other international students, Andressa takes advantage of Brockville’s close proximity to larger cities such as Montreal and visits when she cans, “the trains helps a lot” she added. Although she finds Brockville small and maybe even a bit boring at times, Andressa see’s Brockville’s potential to attract even more students by having a university here, having more youth oriented activities and being open-minded to learning about new cultures.
To finish off our interview with Andressa, we asked her what one piece of advice should would give to an international student considering studying in Canada. She answered simply, “choose your city wisely”. When Andressa originally came to Canada, she choose a small town because she was so young, “I was scared of the big high schools in Toronto. At 15 I was not really independent, I didn’t know how to take the bus”. Now, after being here for three years and in combination with her outgoing personality, Andressa has many Canadian friends. However, she also sees first hand what a lot of other international students experience - loneliness, isolation and difficulties forming friendships with Canadians. She said, “I know of kids who came here and ended up living in Mallorytown, they spent all weekend on their cell phone, what experience did this kid have? They paid a lot of money to play on a cell phone? Or came all the way here to meet another Brazilian or Chinese student?”
While smaller and larger cities each have their benefits, Andressa recommends that international students do their research into what city they think would be the best fit for them, so that they don’t feel “stuck” in a small town or overwhelmed in a big city.