by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Student Program Coordinator ◊
Jun Ho Chang arrived in Canada several weeks ago; his family has been anticipating and planning this move for some time. They have looked forward to becoming part of Creekside Christian School and becoming part of their new community. Jun Ho understands the enormity of his family’s decision, despite the fact that his grandparents are aging and that they depend on his parents for emotional and physical support. They, along with his parents, have decided that Jun Ho’s education is very important and that moving to Canada is in his best interest. Jun Ho has had English tutors for several years in his home country, and is very confident in his English abilities.
However, after several weeks in Canada, Jun Ho and his family are somewhat confused, frustrated and shocked by the enormous hurdles they are encountering as they enter into a culture very different than their own. One frustration is that they had not anticipated the differences in the school system. They are disappointed that Jun Ho requires a significant amount of ELL support, despite the fact that he has studied English very hard before moving.
Many international/landed immigrant families can identify with Jun Ho and his family. Students and their parents may enter their new country with a great deal of anticipation and excitement. Yet very quickly the newness wears off and they begin to realize the enormity of their decision to live in a new country. Even though they may have learned vocabulary and grammar, they quickly realize that it is difficult to communicate effectively. In fact, the non-verbal communication patterns they have been used to are no longer understood, and in some instances, they have been misunderstood. Small talk is very difficult.
One of the greatest stressors for many when entering into a new culture is encountering values and customs which contradict the values and norms of their culture. For example, students from collective cultures have been taught that maintaining harmonious interpersonal relationships is crucial and therefore will hesitate to confront others in order to avoid interpersonal conflicts. Because of cultural differences, there may be misunderstandings. Instead of attempting to resolve these issues, newcomers may tend to keep to themselves, or choose to endure rather than to confront when they experience problems. In some instances, these unresolved issues hinder the student’s integration in school life and may hamper the cross-cultural understanding which we attempt to foster in our schools.
The face of our communities is changing. It is important that the personnel within our schools understand and are able to welcome and support international/landed immigrant students and parents in such a way that mutual understanding occurs. It is vital that schools appoint a coordinator who understands the challenges facing these students. The coordinator can be the vital link between home and school, provide resources for parents, students and teachers, and facilitate activities to promote intercultural understanding within the school community.