Each year students come from all over the world to learn in the Comox Valley, and the Record decided to find out why a couple of them came here and what they think of the Valley.
Joanna Lara is from Guatemala and just got to the Valley a few weeks ago to take advantage of North Island College’s medical transfer program which started in September.
Lara already decided she likes it here.
“It’s beautiful, I really like the water,” she said with a grin, adding she’s been to Goose Spit and loved it. “Also, the people are very friendly so that helps me a lot to not missing my family a lot.”
Lara’s father is a neurosurgeon in Guatemala City, and she plans to follow in his footsteps. She first decided she wanted to study in Canada during a vacation to Vancouver with her father a couple of years ago.
She chose NIC’s medical transfer program after she graduated from high school in Guatemala and plans to continue on to the University of B.C. when she’s completed the program here.
Although her family has done some travelling and lived in Mexico and Belize besides Guatemala, this is Lara’s first time not living under her parents’ roof.
But, she said her homestay with a woman in Courtenay has helped her make the transition.
“I really like it because I’m staying with a single mom,” said Lara. “She’s helping me a lot in every area possible, like she gave me a tour of the Comox Valley. I don’t really remember all the places where I went (smiles) but she’s helping me.”
One difference that’s taken some getting used to is Canadian meals.
“Here, usually for lunch you have like sandwich, and at home — you do like a more strong meal in Guatemala, so it was like, hard at first, but now I’m starting to get adapted,” she explained, adding sometimes she was hungry in the afternoon before she got used to the change.
She appreciates the friendliness of the Canadians she’s met so far, and noted this kindness is helpful to international students.
“I just encourage the people from Canada to remain being nice, kind, friendly because that really helps me and other international students to feel comfortable, it helps us in a big way, and I really appreciate all the help they have been doing for me,” she said.
Justin Guo came here from northeast China and is completing his Grade 12 studies at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School. He moved here in the summer of 2010 and improving his English was a big reason he left China and came to Canada to study.
“When I first came here I can write English but I cannot speak very well and my listening was bad, so when I first came to school, for the first several months, it was really hard for me because I understood only half of what the teacher said,” said Guo, adding group projects and making Canadian friends allowed him to improve his skills with the language.
According to Guo, the main difference between schooling here and in China is the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. He’s part of the school’s Interact Club, Yearbook Club, choir, and is on the senior rugby team.
“As my friend said the last year, ‘Do as many things as you can,'” said Guo with a smile.
Guo lives with his aunt, and plans to take his post-secondary schooling in Canada. He wants to become an electrical engineer, though he’s not sure if he will head off to the University of Victoria, the University of BC, or head further off to the University of Toronto.
Guo repeatedly said he’s been impressed with the friendliness of the Comox Valley throughout his stay.
“It’s a small town, not a lot of people, but almost all the people here are very nice. They see a foreigner, they won’t say, ‘Oh you are new here; I don’t want to interact with you,’ they are very friendly, they will say, ‘Oh, hi, you’re from China,’ so they start a conversation with you,” he said, later adding, “For example, in Superstore when they see an old person or people holding stuff they actually go and open the door for them to make them go through the door easier.
“Everyone here is so gentle.”