Japanese exchange students prepare for a year of school in the province

Kristen McEwen
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Some kids dread the thought of going to school in the summer. However, for 17 students, classes in August gives them a head start for the new school year.

Instructor Teresa Kowalik speaks with two Japanese exchange students during an intensive English lesson at Rivier Academy on Monday. 

Five boys and 12 girls from various places in Japan came to Prince Albert on July 28 to take part in an intensive English program with the Global Partners Institute.

“(The program is) four weeks long and the intention is to accelerate their English language skills to enter high school because all of these students will be going to high school somewhere in the province starting in September,” said Jeannette Eddolls, a regional manager for the organization.

For four weeks, the 15- to 17-year-olds are taking classes at Rivier Academy to work on their English language skills. The students not only learn to speak English but think in the language as well.

Eddolls said the students taking part in the program already know how to read and write in English, however the program immerses the students in Canadian culture, which allows them to understand accents, the speed of conversation, idioms and other cultural nuances that go with the language.

Each student also stays with a host family in the city.

“Each has their own personal host family, so they’re experiencing Canadian culture and family lives through the perspective of their respective host families,” Eddoll said. “And so far, we’re past the halfway point and families and students all seem to be quite happy.”

Currently, the students are two weeks into the program. According to Teresa Kowalik, an instructor with the program, she can already see some progress in their skills. This is Kowalik’s third year with the program. She also assists with the English as an Additional Language program at St. Mary High School.

“This is a good group,” she said. “They can get up and express themselves … What is so good about this group is that they’re not afraid to speak and take a risk. The progress I see is that they’re not shutting down. They’re continuing to grow and to take a chance to speak English when they can.

“ … They are becoming very comfortable in their new environment and that they are motivated and they came motivated,” Kowalik added. “They seem very not flustered by it all.”

In the classroom, the lessons revolve around students expressing ideas about certain concepts. On Monday, Kowalik asked students what a potluck had in common with Canada. The answer: while people bring all kinds of food to a potluck, people from different countries bring aspects of their culture to Canada.

When asked about the differences between living in Canada and living in Japan, many were willing to provide answers.

A student named Reina said when she was at home, her mother would make her lunch. While living with her host family, she is required to make her own lunch.

“Japanese wash the sheets every night,” Reina said, listing additional differences. “(I) wash my clothes every day (and) take a bus every day.”

Another student named Nana noted that items sold in stores are a lot bigger and cheaper than they would be in Japan.

One student thought Canadian people were friendlier than Japanese people.

 Once the students have completed the program, they will enrol in various high schools throughout the province. Seven students will be staying in Prince Albert, including two students at Rivier Academy, four students at St. Mary High School and one student at Carlton Comprehensive High School. The rest will be travelling to North Battleford, Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw.

The students will then spend the next school year at their respective high schools and will not go back to Japan until June 2013.

“At the end of the year, some of our students are very, very fluent (in English),” Eddolls said. “And some of them are almost accent neutral. There are some of them that struggle but the big majority have large gains in their English skills.”

On Aug. 24, the students will be hosting a farewell event before they start the school year. The event, which is open and free to the public, will showcase some of the talents of the students, including musical talents.  The evening will begin at 7 p.m. and will take place in the auditorium at Rivier Academy.

For those who are interested in becoming a host family for future students, or high school students interested in taking part in the exchange program, contact Jeannette Eddolls at 764-4127 or jeannette@goicanada.com.

Kowalik said her students appear to be ready to take on the challenge of living in a different culture.

“They seem ready,” she said. “And they’re kind of embracing this opportunity. They’re kids too and they have curiosity.”

Organizations: Rivier Academy, Global Partners Institute, Mary High School Carlton Comprehensive High School

Geographic location: Japan, Canada, North Battleford Saskatoon Moose Jaw

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