Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 4, 2002
Elk Island welcomes foreign students
Catholic education a draw for students seeking a year abroad
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Kazuki Iriguchi, 17, is not used to being hugged. In Japan it was not customary that people hug each other. He is also not used to a cold climate.
But while in Canada, he is becoming accustomed to the cold weather and warm hugs of his friends and host family.
Iriguchi, who is from Osaka, Japan, is in Canada to learn English and to be exposed to a different culture.
He wanted to experience new things and find adventure. He finds his classmates here to be more friendly and easier to get along with than his Japanese classmates.
Iriguchi's temporary schooling at John Paul II High School in Fort Saskatchewan is part of Elk Island Catholic Schools' international students program.
Providing Catholic education to anyone and from any background is a mission for the district.
In most cases, students come to have an international education experience. They come to learn English or simply to experience a different culture.
"Some of them have been students of Catholic schools in their home countries and they did not want to give that up," Chris Diachuk, assistant superintendent of the school district, told the WCR.
They chose to go to Catholic schools in Canada like Archbishop Anthony Jordan High School and St. Theresa Catholic School in Sherwood Park and JP II High School.
The universality of the district's mission as a Catholic institution is reflected in allowing students to continue receiving Catholic education in a different cultural setting, Diachuk said.
Yasmin Osinski, 16, noted that her school in Bonn, Germany is almost the same as Anthony Jordan.
"We pray every morning to start the day," she said. The most noticeable difference is the frequency of school Mass, which is celebrated every other week in her German school. At Anthony Jordan it is not as frequent.
"But it's the same because we are expected to behave in a certain way."
Kirsten Griffith, also from Germany, agreed and said, "When you go to a Catholic school, you can expect people to be really caring."
Griffith, whose father is a Canadian, was born in Canada, but moved to Freiburg, Germany, where she grew up.
Because she is half-Canadian it is important for her to have a first hand experience living in Canada. In Germany she is studying in a Catholic school. She wanted to maintain that kind of environment when she came to Canada.
Diachuk said, "Virtually all these students made contact with us. We haven't done any kind of recruiting and advertising."
International students find out about the district in two different ways:
First, through students who have been in the school district in the past and have returned to their home countries and given positive feedback about the school district and the Catholic education it offers.
Secondly, through Alberta Learning, which connects the district and families from other countries, who are looking specifically for Catholic education opportunities abroad.
Junpei Yamamoto, 15, is from Tokyo, Japan. He is happy to study at Anthony Jordan because the people are friendly.
His new-found friends made him at home - that's why it's not difficult for him to be separated from his family.
True to the value of welcoming strangers in their midst, the schools in the district try to provide a homey atmosphere for visiting international students.
Seven weeks ago, Aimee Winchester was still in South Africa, where she grew up. Her family moved to Canada and she is now in Grade 12 at Anthony Jordan.
"I find the people very friendly so it's not difficult to adjust," Winchester said.
In the past years, the district only accepted high school students. The program has expanded.
For the first time they have taken elementary international students: one from South Korea, one from Mexico and one junior high from Mexico.
Parents of these younger students asked that their children be allowed to attend St. Theresa Catholic School after they inspected the school, the school system and the homestay parents.
These students have had previous international experiences with their families.
The students pay for their education and are not funded by Alberta Learning.
This setup can be likened to boarding schools in other countries, Diachuk said.
At present the district has 12 students from other countries, like Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea.
To further differentiate the program, the district is planning to set up a scholarship to help disadvantaged children in foreign countries to come to Canada and study in the district.
At present, the international students they host come from well-to-do families.
"The district would like to be able to sponsor one or more students from poor families abroad," Diachuk said.
Sending students to study abroad for a year or a semester is also in the works.
"We've spent most of the time in the inbound program but part of what we want to do is to have an outbound program," he said.
In their outbound program they also want to provide international educational opportunities for teachers.
Presently the district has been promoting missionary projects and has sent a number of students to Latin America for a missionary exposure.