A review of the International Student Program at Kootenay Lake School District

Aug 14, 2015    Source: Chantal Moore

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Nelson, BC has a rich cultural history. In 1987, Nelson International School opened on the former grounds of Notre Dame University, welcoming over 250 Japanese students to study English and business. The school had a positive impact on the community and economy, creating 80 direct jobs. 

So, 17 years ago, when High School Principal Dr. Bill Reid received a phone call from a student in Japan who wanted to study in Nelson, it must not have been a large surprise. Looking back, this call marked what was the start of the International Student Program at the Kootenay Lake School District. Today, the International Program has grown and is an inspiration for many. Despite being a smaller region of BC, or maybe because of this, the International Program has received praise from students around the world and now has 125 students from 11 countries. 

Sandy Prentice has been the International Program Administrator since its infancy. She is driven by the belief that cross-cultural competency is essential for today’s youth. She has seen the positive effect international students have had on the area. Through the International Program, she has also connected with many homestay families – friends she would not have otherwise met.

International students are drawn to Nelson for several reasons. “Nelson is caring. We have the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but you do not have to be either. The cost of living is cheap. The ski hill is 20 minutes from downtown. And the tennis courts, beach and malls are just a quick walk from the high school” said Prentice.

“Students tell us year after year ’I transferred to your program from a large city because I heard it was the Canadian dream but I wanted to live it to believe it.’”

Top source countries include South Korea and China, but Germany, Mexico, Brazil and Japan are growing markets.

Evaluating success

In recent months, the International Program at Kootenay Lake has undergone an evaluation to review and report on successes and key opportunities.

One thing was clear: Domestic students appreciate having international students in their schools – 98% responded very favourably – and an equal amount believed these students improved the quality of their schools.

However, when it came to spending time with international students outside school hours, domestic students shied away. The feedback was not that they did not want to make new friends from abroad, but that they did not know how. 

Introducing the Intercultural Certificate

In part to address these challenges, Kootenay Lake created a for-credit Intercultural Certificate for domestic students that will launch in its full capacity this Fall. (So far rollout has been gradual). Under this certificate, students can complete cross-cultural credit courses with international students.“We realized friendships develop after a prolonged exposure. Everyone learns people are people, regardless of the colour of their skin or language they speak. They just want to be liked, have friends and be successful,” noted Prentice.

The Intercultural Certificate is open to all domestic students, and they can earn credits even if they cannot travel abroad. For example, hosting students through homestay will earn credits under the program as will taking foreign language courses. 

Families are expressing interest in offering homestays because they want their children to receive the Intercultural Certificate. And post-secondary institutions in the province are starting to place value on the Certificate; the hope is that widespread recognition will follow, that the program will continue to be evaluated and expanded upon.

Where is the International Program headed?

For nearly two decades, the International Program has brought meaningful perspective to Kootenay Lake School District. 

Prentice said building connections will remain the focus going forward. She also wants to increase domestic students abroad. This is underway through projects such as rhe Beijing International Student Summer Camp, where BC youth travel to China each summer for a 10-day historical tour.

“Internationalization is vital with the way the world is shrinking and with globalization…Parents can make that active choice to culturalize their kids.” 

Thanks to the hard work of educators at Kootenay Lake School District, it is now easier to do just this. 

For more information, visit the International Program website.