By BRENDA BRANSWELL - International students Xia Zong Kai, 19, Zheng Jun Sheng, 15, Liu Ziyi, 16, Wen Kangni, 18, and Wang Qian, 18, spend time in one of the new residence living rooms at the International Language Centre in Pointe Claire, west of Montreal on Friday, August 27, 2010. The students are among a group of Chinese, European, Korean and South American students that will be taking the same curriculum as Montreal students in schools within the Lester B. Pearson School Board.Photograph by : Dario Ayala, THE GAZETTEFor a 15-year-old who had travelled from his home in southern China, Junsheng Zheng seemed remarkably alert at the International Language Centre in Pointe Claire less than 24 hours after he arrived.
He had already picked an English name for himself -"Sonic" after a popular video game character.
Tomorrow, Junsheng and dozens of other foreign students will fan out to different high schools in the Lester B. Pearson School Board where they’ll spend the year studying.
Junsheng will attend Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds and live in the centre’s dormitory. He wants to improve his English and attend university in Canada.
He looked relaxed and upbeat. But having just arrived he said : "I feel very nervous about a new life."
The bulk of the 150 long-term students at the centre come from Asia. Nineteen will attend John Abbott College.
The Pearson board believes its program is unique in Quebec. When it began in 2002, it had a dozen students. "We’ve grown every single year," said Carol Mastantuono, assistant director of the board’s international studies department.
The centre also expects another 400 students for shorter stays for the cultural opportunity and to boost their English skills. Many of those kids are from Europe and Latin America, like the Grade 5 boys from Mexico who visited for a month last year.
The idea for the program came from community interest in a more international approach to education, Mastantuono said.
It immediately became apparent it could boost the board’s enrolment, she said. The program also contributes to its bottom line. The self-financing centre produces surpluses every year, including $300,000 last year, Mastantuono said. The money goes toward paying off the $2 million loan used to renovate the centre, which opened in 2007 in the former Seigniory School.
Students pay $11,500 in annual tuition and the board gives about $6,500 of that amount to the Quebec government. It costs students $7,500 a year to stay in the dormitory.
Kangni Wen, 17, is back for a second year to attend Riverdale. "I like it here. It’s better than China’s education," Kangni said. She admitted it’s hard being far from family.
"I really miss my family and my dogs," she said.
Students get homesick, but the centre tries hard to create a home-type atmosphere, Mastantuono said. Supervisors are with them around the clock.
"We’ve never had anybody go home because they’ve been homesick," she said.
In Asia, students live in dormitories for the most part, Mastantuono said. "So it’s not foreign to them this type of concept." They come not only to learn the language and culture but also to complete their education, she said. "A Canadian education is seen as a commodity -a hot commodity in China."
Language is a big barrier at the start and students must take three hours of English language training on Saturday mornings, Mastantuono said. Students receive temporary English eligibility certificates to attend Pearson schools.
"I think generally teachers are supportive of the idea," said John Donnelly, the head of the Pearson Teachers Union. "As long as they feel that it’s being well planned and they’re able to integrate these students in a logical and consistent basis they’re fine with that."
Teaching and learning challenges are inevitable, said Tom Rhymes, principal of Riverdale High School, which has 25 international students this year.
But those are outweighed by the benefits of having that additional flavour in the school, Rhymes said.
"The list of benefits is endless," he added. "Having students from a different place, a different culture, being able to develop those bonds and those links -how do you measure that ?"
bbranswell 7ZQ montrealgazette.com