International students looking for Canadian experience

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Jason Kerr
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Global Partners is searching for host families for its next group of students to arrive in Prince Albert.

Seventeen female high school students and two staff members are coming to Prince Albert to participate in an Interactive Cultural Program from March 21 to April 4.

Jeannette Eddolls is the Saskatchewan regional manager for Global Partners, and she says this is more than just a great opportunity for the Japanese students.  It’s also a chance for local residents to come in contact with another culture.

“Almost without exception it is a positive experience for both the students and the (host) families,” she says.

Eloise Dickie agrees.  She’s a Prince Albert resident who has hosted multiple students on both short and long-term visits, and she says the experience is very rewarding.

“They become a part of your family,” she says.  “When they leave after the year or even after the month it’s really sad.”

Global Partners is a non-profit organization headquartered in Abbottsford, British Columbia.  They’ve been setting up exchanges like this since 1992.  They expanded to include Prince Albert a few years later, bringing in students from countries such as Australia and New Zealand over that period.  However, the primary Canadian connection is with Japan.

“We’re so under-populated compared to where they come from,” Eddolls says of Japanese high school students.  “They always mention the big sky and nature.”

“They love the people in Canada and they love the food,” says Dickie, who just finished hosting a Japanese student named Wataru for an entire year.  “They say our houses are really big and to have two bathrooms is nice.”

There’s also the snow and the cold.  It may seem dreary for the average Prince Albert resident, but it continues to fascinate the international students.

“In the beginning you build a snowman,” says Dickie with a laugh.  “Later he had all these experiments that he wanted to do outside, like how fast does water freeze when you threw it in the snow.”

Of course there are more practical aspects to the trips too.  Eddolls says helping students improve their English skills is one of the main effects.

“Even though it’s only 12 days or 14 days, they do improve over that time.  For many, we can see that their confidence grows a little bit.”

Dickie says there is a noticeable language barrier, which can sometimes make things difficult.

“Sometimes they don’t understand you very well when you speak, but you can overcome that by taking the time to teach them,” she says.

The language barrier can cause minor problems at school.  Eddolls stresses that most students love the schools they end up in, but some students do have trouble making friends because of their language skills.   Dickie says shyness can also be a factor.  It’s one reason why host families exist, to help bridge that gap.

Host families are expected to invest a lot of time with the students staying with them.  Dickie says Wataru went with her and her family everywhere.  That included everything from snowshoeing and ice-fishing trips to a vacation on the west coast.

Short-term programs, like the one coming up this spring, aren’t as intensive as what Dickie did.  However, Eddolls says that’s the type experience they want to give the kids who come to Canada.

“I think the key element is that we want them to include the student as part of their family.  The student gets to enjoy the perks, but also has a few responsibilities.”

Students are expected to do some chores and help around the house.  They also provide their Prince Albert hosts with a look into Japanese culture.

“Learning from (Wataru) was wonderful,” Dickie says.  “He would cook Japanese food for us.  Learning his life and his culture and the way they go to school and the respect they have for their elders was very interesting.”

The 17 Japanese students coming to Prince Albert will attend Rivier Academy, but almost every school in Prince Albert has hosted students on a Global Partners exchange.  In fact, nine such students are coming for a short-term trip next week.

Those students are already being provided for, but Eddolls says they are still looking for families for the group arriving in late March.  They need families who can provide meals, transportation on class days, a private bedroom, and have a desire to integrate international students into their everyday lives.

“It’s an amazing experience,” says Dickie.  “Everyone should do it.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Global Partners, Rivier Academy

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada, Abbottsford British Columbia Australia and New Zealand Japan

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