This year, a record number of international students from as far away as China and Germany made the trek around the world to study in Vancouver. Earlier this week, the district's newest arrivals were treated to a comprehensive daylong assessment and orientation session at Killarney Secondary (complete with pizza lunch).
This orientation was designed to welcome the 475 new secondary students who joined an additional 493 returning secondary students studying at VSB schools. The large number of students attending the sessions meant staff members and student mentors would be kept particularly busy in the lead up to the new school year.
Michelle Heo, a Grade 11 student at Magee, was going through a similar orientation when she arrived at Killarney roughly a year ago. At the time, she was startled by the differences between her home of Gwang Yang, South Korea and Vancouver. Here there were no uniforms and a much greater emphasis was placed on volunteer and club activities. That and the ability to select your own elective courses (Heo chose keyboarding, psychology, choir and law) really stood out as significant benefits of the BC education system.
Barb Onstad is the Manager of International Education. She says that student like Michelle Heo are increasingly picking Vancouver because of the excellent reputation of BC and Canadian public school systems, the desirability of the city itself and the diversity of schools and courses to choose from.
"Vancouver really has a sterling reputation internationally," says Onstad. "By showcasing our diversity in programs and the partnerships we've developed with Langara, UBC and other post-secondary institutions, the VSB really is a sought after location. However, getting students to arrive is only the first step. Once they're here, it is incumbent on us to give them the tools they need to succeed and thrive in our schools."
That's where students like Heo come into play. She was on hand this week to leverage her first hand perspective of the challenges many international students face when arriving in a foreign land in order to support new students trying to get ready for their first year in the VSB. She says she's been helping many students from China as well as providing clerical support to VSB staff. Heo and dozens of other international education staff members and volunteers spent two afternoons taking two cohorts of new students through the ABCs of Vancouver's public education system. During the afternoon sessions, students got set up for medical coverage and were given an overview of how classes work, who to go to for help (each school has an international contact to provide immediate support) and how to successfully navigate their new secondary school.