Chinese Students Continue to Speak Out

Homestay Students Report More Crooked Dealings With Recruiter

  • “Misfortune cookies” were handed out at last week’s press conference. Photo Keith Race

  • About 20 students gathered to protest the condition of international students’ homestays on Wednesday. Photo Keith Race

More of Concordia’s Chinese students came forward last week with allegations about bad experiences in homestays and shady dealings with a recruiter employed by the university.

A crowd of about 20 Concordia students, including several international students from China, gathered for a press briefing outside a conference for the Canadian Bureau for International Education at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Montreal on Wednesday.

Lydia, a management student at Concordia who asked that her last name be withheld, said she lived in a homestay earlier this year organized by Peter Low, Concordia’s recruiting agent for Chinese students.

Although she didn’t want to live in a homestay, Low told her the homestay—and its $900 monthly rent—was required for at least “a few months.”

Concordia’s administration has emphasized that the school does not run homestays and is not responsible for where students end up.

“This is not a Concordia residence that they’re going into. It’s a private arrangement,” Concordia’s VP Services Roger Côté told The Link in an interview last week.

That arrangement is made between students and Low’s Vancouver-based company, Orchard Consulting. Orchard works with at least two companies that operate homestays in Montreal.

In a statement released on Friday, the university said Low “receives no remuneration from homestay providers” for referring students.

Côté explained that the university does not require that Chinese students stay in homestays.

“It’s not a requirement at all. Students decide to, they elect to do that,” he said. A briefing document prepared for the media by Côté’s office also noted that homestays are an “optional service.”

However, emails Lydia provided to The Link show that Low told her otherwise.

In an email sent on June 4, 2012, Low told Lydia that she must live in a homestay when she moved to Canada. “You have to stay at the homestay first and after a few months you can apply for a campus dorm,” he wrote.

In a second email, also sent on June 4, Low told Lydia that living in a homestay was necessary, “because you have to be in Montreal before you can apply for the dorm.” He added, “You cannot apply from overseas even if you pay for it.”

To apply for residence, Concordia’s residence life website explains that students must “live more than 50 kilometres outside Montreal and surrounding areas.”

Like Canadian students, international students can apply for residence as soon as they receive a letter of acceptance from Concordia. Lydia received her letter of acceptance in an email from Low on Feb. 17.

Miscommunication

In a press release sent last Friday, the day after the first version of this story was released on The Link‘s website, the university said that Low had provided Concordia with “key correspondence with Concordia students placed in homestays.”

“We now have a record of that same email from Peter Low. The information in that email is erroneous. That is an error. That has been brought to his attention, and going forward, that mistake won’t be made again.”
— Chris Mota, Concordia University Spokesperson

In the press release, the university explained that this correspondence “and other evidence gathered to date suggest that the complaints reported on by the media are likely the result of miscommunication.”

When contacted on Monday morning to clarify the university’s explanation, Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota reported that after reading the article, Low had spoken with the university to explain “what the language in those emails said.”

“There’s a lot of ways of interpreting stuff. And what he basically did was he took a look at each point that was raised in your article and responded to our satisfaction,” she explained. “We haven’t seen the exact stuff that you’re referring to, but he took every single quote from your article and explained the context.”

A few hours later, when provided with a direct quote from the relevant section of the email, the explanation shifted.

“We now have a record of that same email from Peter Low. The information in that email is erroneous,” Mota said, after consulting with university administration. “That is an error. That has been brought to his attention, and going forward, that mistake won’t be made again.

“Effective immediately, he will be providing information on residence and the options for students from China in residence, with deadlines, dates and some reality about how many spaces there are,” added Mota.

Low is also now drafting a letter to be sent to students he recruits that “clarifies what a homestay is, and also the responsibility and the legal relationship between the student and the agent,” she explained.

“I Trusted Him”

Lydia said she completed her application to Concordia while still in China, but before submitting it contacted Peter Low for help. Low had visited her high school to talk about Concordia, and Lydia said she had hoped that, as the university’s Chinese recruiter, he could make sure her application was in order.

Lydia paid Low $12,100 in late May. He explained in an email sent on Feb. 17 that this amount included $9,000 for one semester’s tuition, health insurance and registration fees and a $2,200 “program fee.”

But when she arrived in Canada, Lydia was surprised to find that this $2,200 did not count toward her tuition, and was instead paid directly to Low. She said she had to ask her parents to wire her an extra $1,700 to cover the bill.

Unhappy with her homestay experience and short $2,200 in fees for a service she didn’t need, Lydia says that she is disappointed with Low.

“His name is on the school website. I trusted him,” said Lydia.

After The Link published a story on Sept. 25 detailing allegations about poor conditions in homestays, Concordia removed all references to the homestay program from the university’s website.

“It’s a kind of nightmare,” said Gloria, a Concordia finance student who said she lived in a homestay provided through Orchard last year. She also asked that her last name not be published.

“When I first came here, I don’t know anybody, I don’t know who I can trust. I think maybe I can trust the homestay,” she said.

Gloria left the homestay after a month, she said, because she wasn’t happy about the amount of food she was receiving. For her $900 monthly rent, Gloria said every day she was given two pieces of bread for breakfast and pasta for dinner.

Gloria said she paid $1,800—two months’ rent—in cash to a representative of a homestay provider who picked her up when she arrived at the Montreal airport. She said she asked for a refund when she decided to move out before the second month, but the homestay company and her landlord refused.

“I would tell my friends to never go to homestay,” she said.

Contract Under Review

“Our contract with [Low] has expired. In the interim, until we settle all of this, he continues to recruit for us,” said Mota. “We are moving to a point where we have to make a decision about how we proceed moving forward.”

The university has not yet decided whether or not to renew Low’s contract, but more student input would help inform the university’s decision, she said.

“The students can help us here as we assess our relationship moving forward with this recruiter,” said Mota.

The university’s investigation into allegations brought forward by students about homestays and recruiting continues, but few students have contacted the university directly so far.

“Everything that we hear in connection with this file, we investigate,” said Mota.

“We need to see what is legitimate, what isn’t legitimate. As far as I know, nobody is willing to speak to us at this point, or feels comfortable enough doing that. We still hope that will happen. The dean of students’ door is wide open.”

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