For several days now a class of 22 students and six teachers from Chengdu, China have experienced all Williams Lake has to offer.
Despite the current political tension between nations, the students and their teachers still made the journey to Canada with a goal of making connections and expanding their worldviews. In partnership with School District 27 and the support of a few dozen lakecity families, they’ve done exactly that.
From attending school at Columneetza side by side with lakecity youth their own age, to getting out and about in the community, they’ve more than achieved this goal. While in Williams Lake on their Winter Camp they’ve got to experience true cold, snow and a variety of winter activities, from curling, sleigh riding, shovelling snow and ice skating.
All of this has been made possible thanks to the work of Lisa Luo of the Vancouver Public Education Alliance (VPEA). Lou and VPEA work to promote a Sino-North American International education platform for high school and college students on both sides of the Pacific. This is done through exchange programs, students sponsorships and programs like the Cheng Du students’ Winter Camp, all with the intent to build long-term international relationships across the continent.
Lisa is a bubbly, friendly woman who invites students from China to visit Canada year-round in both a Summer and Winter Camp, with a goal of visiting and connecting them with Canadian high schools and colleges. This marks her second year returning to Williams Lake and her fourth year doing it overall.
“I think last year in September we signed a contract with SD 27 and those two schools in China that said we’d have a student exchange program for two years and if this program works very well then we can extend the time,” Lisa said. “We plan to have some Canadian students go to China this year, maybe in November.”
The Chinese students, so far, have really enjoyed visiting Canada, Lisa said, particularly because of the education system saying that most of them told her “teacher, I don’t want to go back, I want to stay here.” The home-stays that have billetted the students and teachers for their stay have also been great according to Lisa and help make the kids feel at home.
Experiencing snow and winter weather is also always an obvious highlight for the students, Lisa said, as Chengdu is close to the equator and rarely sees any type of snow or winter weather. Instead, they’re known for being the panda bear city with many giant panda bear breeding and preservation centres based in and around it.
A main goal of the school exchange program is to improve the students’ spoken English, Lisa said, as many of them tend to be shy and nervous about practising it out loud.
“We want them to be brave and we want to give them a chance to (practice),” Lisa said, adding with a laugh. “This year has gone very well except for the food, some of them had some trouble adjusting to the Western food.”
The various outdoor activities the students partake in while here are also a significant change from their lives in China. Lisa said in schools in China outdoor activities are not promoted, partially due to a tight schedule and parental concerns about injury, so the chance to do so in Canada has been enlightening for students and teachers. In fact, Lisa said that one of the accompanying principals told her she would be pushing for more outdoor activities in her own school when she returns to China.
“We can only do this step by step and we hope within five to 10 years our students can be just like your students and run around. That’s our hope, we hope we can do that,” Lisa said.
As far as the people of Williams Lake goes, Lisa said they’ve been very warm and welcoming wherever the students go. This has gone a long way towards making the students feel at ease to experience Canadian culture while sharing their own.
“The world is just like a big family. People should know each other well especially (when it comes) to language, culture and things like these. Then you can work together and co-operate (as a society). That’s a big goal,” Lisa said.
One of the visiting students was Yiqiu Jian who said that English is his favourite subject and that he likes playing the guitar and phone games in his spare time. Jian wanted to come to Canada to improve his English and make foreign friends.
“I’ve made lots of friends, they’re friendly and very funny, I like them very much,” Jian said.
Fourteen-year-old Siyi Luo is a lover of dance and music and aspires to be a professional singer when she grows up. Siyi was more interested in coming to Canada for educational purposes and to see what studying in Canada would be like.
Both agreed that school in Canada is very different from their schools in China.
The fact that classes take place over two hours in B.C. is already a big difference according to Jian as in China they only have 40 minutes a subject. He also likes the freedom of choice that Canadian students enjoy in picking their electives rather than sticking strictly to a course schedule.
Siyi said both China and its schools tend to be more crowded and its teachers are far more strict with their students.
“Canada’s teachers are very funny and outgoing,” she remarked. “I like Canada’s schools.”
For them, like many of their classmates, this trip was their first time leaving China and experiencing a foreign culture first hand. Both agreed they’d enjoyed travelling and learning more about Canadian history.
While Jian has enjoyed Canadian food like hamburgers, ice cream and potato chips he said he misses the food of his home and looks forward to returning after enjoying his time here.
“I like Canada’s study (options) but I like China best,” Siyi said. “There are many people there that I like and I’m used to them.”
The students leave this Saturday and after a potential tour of UBC in Vancouver, will then fly home to Chengdu.