CORNWALL, Ontario – Mike Liu is having a great time in Canada.
The resident of Suzhou, China is picking up English quickly, while learning the finer points of Canadian life – such as how to toss a snowball.
Liu, a student of the Suzhou International Foreign Language School, is one of 10 Chinese elementary students from the school who are studying at Viscount Alexander Public School in Cornwall. He is studying with the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) as part of the international education program of the Upper Canada Leger Centre for Education and Training. The program allows the students from China and other foreign countries to study in Canada, be immersed in the English language to help make them proficient, while sharing culture and values with their peers.
The 13-year-old sees the three-month stay as one more building block to a successful future as a scientist in space research.
“I think (learning English) is very important to my future,” said Liu. “I want to be a space scientist and English is very important to that. I will be able to study more books if I know English and I will be able to talk with other scientists all over the world.”
During the school day Liu and other students take part in regular classes with the Viscount Alexander students as well as participate in Chinese homework sessions. It is critical that while they are in Canada they keep up on school work from back home. They accomplish the work with the help of translator and chaperone Rella Wu, who helps the students communicate when needed as well as guides their studies.
Liu and Wu say there are some pointed differences between school in China and Canada. The school day here is much shorter than in China, says Wu. Students who board at the international school such as Liu start studies at 7 a.m. and often don’t finish until 8 p.m.
Located in the most populous country in the world, the number of students at Suzhou is much larger than at Viscount. In kindergarten alone there are 500 children – 22 classes with three teachers in each classroom.
The classroom atmosphere is less strict in Canada, they say. While Liu says that teachers at Viscount allow students to speak freely during their learning, in China there is a more traditional relationship between teachers and student where children must be granted permission to speak.
Wu also says that in some areas of the curriculum – particularly mathematics – the Chinese students are more advanced in their learning than their Canadian cohorts in the same grade.
The Chinese students are enjoying some exciting activities that they would not experience in China. To mark World Autism Awareness Day earlier this month, the school hosted a Bubbles for Autism event in which Viscount students learned about the condition and then went out on to the playground to blow soap bubbles as a school to mark the day.
Last week, students joined their peers in the We Day celebrations in Ottawa, part of a nationwide event organized by Free the Children.