Homestays and the Corona Virus

Joe Fleener is pastor of Rolleston Baptist Church. In this short article, Joe identifies a consequence of the current Covid-19 viral outbreak that many will not have considered. We hope his thoughts will stir us to deeper, informed prayer and care for those affected.

I have read quite a lot in the media both from overseas and here in New Zealand regarding the ongoing developments related to the spread of Covid-19. The fallout is significant to be sure. The economic impact is likely to grow worse in the coming weeks or even months. Inevitably there will be may effects which will not be fully known perhaps even until next year, or longer depending on how worse things get.

I have read a small number of items on the impact this is having on Universities, Polytechs and schools in New Zealand as International (particularly Chinese) students are unable to return and continue their studies. I’ve read even less on the impact this is having on those students themselves whose lives have been put on hold and whose educational opportunities are significantly hampered in the midst of all of this.

I have read almost nothing on the impact this is having on homestay families. We are one of those. I don’t know how many there are in New Zealand, but there must be thousands. Not all will be in our exact situation but all will be experiencing significant, negative effects. Thus far it has been a silent plight.

We have been privileged to serve as a family to a young lady studying in New Zealand from China for over four years. In this time she has become part of our family. She lives in her room in our home and has made it her room, full of her belongings. She bought her first car while living with us. I even helped teach her how to drive in New Zealand as she approached taking her driving exams. Her car now sits in our drive.

She returned to China in December before all of this virus mess started. She took just what she needed to spend a few weeks with her family over New Year, expecting to be back with us by the 24th of February. She’s not back. She has no idea when she will be allowed to return. She has been told by officials here in New Zealand that if she cannot return by this Friday, she will have to delay her studies for a full 12 months.

Our student is someone we care about very much. We are concerned for her wellbeing as she is now stranded in China far from her family and far from us. Yet we also have a deepening complication. The boarding fee we received from our student was a vital part of our family income. This has now stopped. Yet we have a room full of her belongings and a car that belongs to her. We don’t want to and really can’t practically offer her room to someone else as the contents of the room are almost entirely hers, plus we hope she will return soon so we don’t want to get into a situation where someone else is depending on that space.

I can only imagine there are other families in similar situations as to us. Perhaps landlords in even worse situations with an entire flat hired out to students who went to China for the New Year and are now stuck!

I’m not sure our Government is hearing this voice. I am not sure this scenario and the financial implications are even entering into their calculations or thinking. I would ask the Government to seriously reconsider their blanket ban on returnees from places like China, especially students, particularly if they can demonstrate the status of their physical health.

There is a lot at stake here and it is far more complicated than it might seem at first glance.

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