When you wander through the halls of Clarkson Secondary School, you'll quickly notice the multitude of languages being spoken. From Mandarin, to Japanese, to German, to Korean and more – the school is certainly reflective of the diverse cultures in Peel. The halls are bustling with a blend of international and local students who are eager to get to know and learn each other's culture and languages. With that mind, that's when Esther Cheung, an international student from South Korea and graduate from Clarkson, initiated the International Club.
"I think it is exciting to have people share their language because language is the carrier of one culture to another. Student's enthusiasm about learning Mandarin makes me feel warm and happy because this is what diminishes the distance between people," says Simon Yuheng Ren, grade 12 international student at Clarkson.
The International Club is entirely student-led and its aim is to bring local and international students together to build a connection between them. Through the club, they developed a Language Partnership Program which offered students the opportunity to learn each other's languages and cultures. Students paired up and would meet on a weekly basis. Last school year, the club formed over 20 partnerships– Mandarin being the largest language of interest.
"I wanted to learn Mandarin so I could start communicating with international students here at Clarkson. The benefit of learning from another student is a one-on-one relationship and building friendships that could last a lifetime," says Ethan Johnston, grade 10 student at Clarkson.
For many, the relationships built and the bonds strengthened, beyond the club. Ethan, partnered with Yiming, an international student from China, and one day, they went to a local Chinese restaurant together where Ethan even ordered in Mandarin.
"I like Ethan as a friend. He is very nice. I really like this activity as it helps me practice my English and we are friends. I teach Ethan Mandarin and he is very serious. I feel good as I use books to teach words in Mandarin very slow and I tell him what they mean," says Yiming Jin.
In addition to learning a different language, international students even taught students how to cook traditional dishes from their homelands.
The club has grown so large that they now have an international students' room to host their weekly meetings. At the end of the school year, students celebrate with a ceremony and receive certificates of completion with volunteer hours.
"As a teacher, it has been rewarding to witness students learning through their differences and drawing comfort from their similarities," says Gillian Leavitt, Cross Curricular Head of International Program, Clarkson. "International and local students are discovering each other's languages and culture and finding they share the same human emotions. From this, friendships have been born. We even have a former student from Japan who may Skype into the class to teach Japanese to her former classmates."
Clarkson is one of five Peel District School Board schools that host the Peel Schools for International Students program. The program was established to enhance the level of support available to international students and to provide students with opportunities to learn the English and culture in Canada.
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