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International students treated to Kiwi hospitality

International students from around the world are discovering the extent of Kiwi hospitality as they sit out the COVID-19 lockdown with Northland host families across the region.

The Tai Tokerau families are earning praise, both at home and abroad, for the care and attention they are showing to their students, with about 150 staying in Northland.

"For many of those students, being back in their home countries would be much less comfortable, because they are from big built-up cities, where the number of coronavirus cases is higher and lockdowns are being extended," says Jo Lees, project manager for Study Northland.

Study Northland is the international education arm of Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency, and was set up last year to strengthen and support international education throughout New Zealand.

"In contrast, here in Northland, the students are enjoying living in rural settings or in houses with big backyards and plenty of fresh air," says Jo.

Jo added that international students are being well supported by their schools and the homestay families have been doing an amazing job of keeping them busy and making them feel an integral part of the family.

"Whether that’s been cooking, gardening, crafts, backyard games, exercising or just watching Netflix, the students have been made to feel perfectly at home. They feel safe, supported and well looked after in what is obviously a strange and scary time for them."

As Jill Grimshaw, the international student director at Springbank School in Kerikeri, put it: "We all realise we are pretty lucky to be ‘locked-up’ here in Northland".

Jo says some students had made the decision, in conjunction with their parents, to repatriate and had recently headed home, but the majority were staying put. "Their safety and wellbeing will continue to be everyone’s top priority, no matter what they choose to do."

Leo, a student from Germany, studying at Whanga¬Årei Boys’ High School, is a keen hockey player and expects to stay in Northland until July. During lockdown, he has been enjoying time around the house with his host family, including cooking and spending time in his 'lockdown garden', weeding his lettuces.

Jordan, another student, says she was "doing fine in isolation – it’s not boring at all. We do workouts, stretches and yoga every day together, which is so nice".

Jo was confident that despite the impact of COVID-19, the students would go home with a true understanding of Kiwi hospitality.

"It’s the Northland way to treat all visitors as our own. I’m sure this will be a positive experience that stays with them for the rest of their lives."

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