Home Stay program benefits students staying in residence during the break
By Neale McDevitt
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, the holiday season can be the best of times and it can be the worst of times. While the more fortunate among us celebrate the best of the season in the warm embrace of friends and family, others – including students who can’t make it back home – spend it alone.
McGill’s Residences’ Holiday Home Stay Program is hoping to tap into the former to combat the latter.
Now in its third year, Home Stay plays matchmaker with students who are staying in residence for the holidays and McGill faculty and staff who are looking to share a home-cooked meal or two.
“Right after the last exam, the kids start packing up and leaving to go home. Everyone is saying bye and residence can get pretty quiet, pretty quickly,” said Brenda Shanahan, director of New Residence, who started the program in 2009. “I noticed that I had 20 or so students who were staying so I started asking some of the people I was working with if they’d be interested in inviting a student or two to their home during the holidays.”
While Shanahan found holiday dinners for just five or six students that year, the modest seeds that were planted bore impressive fruit in 2010, with some 35-40 students being hosted at the homes of faculty and staff.
History and home cooking
Dave D’Oyen was one such participant. Last year, the Jamaica native was starting his BA in Industrial Relations at McGill, marking his first time away from home. Signing up for the Home Stay program, he and two other students spent the evening of Dec. 23 at the home of Micheline Senia, then an Alumni Services Associate at Development and Alumni Relations. Senia and her partner prepared a traditional Quebec Holiday meal, complete with turkey and tourtiére. Afterward, the group toured Old Montreal and watched fireworks at the Old Port.
“It was a wonderful evening,” said D’Oyen. “I particularly liked the tour of Old Montreal and learning about the history of the city and having Micheline share her experiences with us.
“People don’t necessarily get the chance to get out of the McGill bubble,” continued D’Oyen. “It’s nice to break out of our little circle of friends and meet new people.”
Lonnie Steven Nadler, Residence Life Facilitator and coordinator of the 2011 Home Stay program, knows first hand how difficult the holiday period can be for the people who stay behind.
“When I was in residence in my first year at McGill, I was one of five or six students who didn’t go home,” he said. “It gets especially tough because the people on your floor feel like family because you are constantly with them. When they aren’t there any more, residence becomes an extremely large, extremely lonely place.”
Shanahan points out that many of the students are international students who have never taken part in this holiday season – or even winter for that matter.
“[The participants] really like the big family celebrations. The more squished in they are at a table, the better,” she said. “And many have tried tobogganing or skating for the first time – learning the ropes from a staff member’s kids – and have ended up buying their own sled or skates.”
In past years, staff and faculty have been asked to invite students over for a meal or two. This year, however, they also have the option to have a student or two sleep over to get a real feel for the holidays.
“It’s a wonderful way to welcome international students into our culture,” said Nadler, “but it is also a great opportunity for those staff members who don’t get much of a chance to interact with students to finally meet them.”
To register for the program, would-be participants are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org with their contact information and days of availability between Dec. 23, 2011 and Jan. 2, 2012. For more information call Lonnie Nadler at 514-398-2929. The deadline to apply is today (Dec. 16) at 5 p.m.