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Chippewa International Students Club creates cultural connection

'We want them to share their cultures with us so we can learn about what life is like back home for them, and we want them to experience Canadian culture while socializing and having fun'

Chippewa Secondary School is home to many international students every year and on a bi-weekly basis these students gather to take part in the International Students Club (ISC), a social event during the lunch hour where they have discussions and learn about different traditions and customs in Canada and around the world.

Led by teachers Mike Brisson, Jessica Bradford, Ashley Gregoris, and Heather Chirico, the club has three main goals.

“We want them to share their cultures with us so we can learn about what life is like back home for them, and we want them to experience Canadian culture while socializing and having fun with other students who are in similar situations.” says Brisson.

Brison says experiencing Canadian culture means taking the students to events such as hockey games, the Farmers Market and the maple syrup festival. This past November the (ISC) attended a North Bay Battalion game at Memorial Gardens which many of the students enjoyed, although Chihiro Masuda from Japan says he was shocked when the game between the Troops and the Wolves got rough.

“The hockey game we went to, I told my family back home that it is an aggressive sport,” he says. “It was between North Bay and Sudbury and I couldn’t believe when the guys threw off their gloves and took off their helmet and they were punching each other! I couldn’t believe it.”

Things are much tamer inside the classroom than at Memorial Gardens where there is a different theme or topic that engages the students. A few weeks ago the topic was baby showers in Canada and how other cultures celebrate welcoming a newborn into the world. The students learned about the names of different baby items and games that are played at baby showers, then shared about customs from their home countries.’

Ashley Gregoris, who helps with the club says, “One of the interesting themes we did was on music around the world. We wanted to know ‘what are young people listening to right now?’ and it was neat because some of the music the students played were songs that we all knew because it’s a song that is actually popular worldwide, and there were other songs that we heard that were very much unique to that student's country.”

Brisson adds, “I think the gift exchange was really cool before Christmas. We told them all to bring in something wrapped of little value (we didn’t want them spending money on it) and we did the classic Christmas steal game where you draw a number, take a gift from the pile, or steal someone else's gift. We also did a theme where students listed stereotypes that existed about their countries, and the other students were given three clues and had to figure out which country those clues related to. For Canada, the clues were “loves Tim Hortons, plays hockey and curling, and wears plaid.’”

Carli Dura is from Spain and she says there is an addition to the Canadian stereotype, “The one thing that the rest of the world knows is that there are nice people here, and in my experience that is holding up great.”

Dura arrived on September 1st through a scholarship and says she’s enjoying her time here so far, even getting to speak Spanish in small doses around Chippewa and North Bay making her “feel a little bit like I am home.”

Comparable to that experience is Enora Guillerm who arrived in North Bay at the beginning of September from France, and she says she is finding her native language is assisting her while living in North Bay. She says, “My host dad speaks French and I’ll hear him speak that with his friends. It is a different French than what I’m used to hearing, but I can use it around school and out in the community.”

She adds, “The International Students Club is awesome because we get to see how other people live their lives in other countries and how much we change between countries.”

One thing that was similar among most of these students was experiencing a true winter for the first time. Sa’rai Smith is from the Bahamas and she says, “It’s been a really good experience so far, an interesting change from being outside and swimming every day to having snow.”

And Diana Korotkykh says, “I’m really happy to be here to be able to meet people from different countries. My advice is that if you are coming to Canada, make sure you pack extra winter clothes.”

While the theme changes from week to week at the ISC, one constant is the message of friendships being made.

“Just based on what we are seeing at lunch, they have made some really good connections with other students they’ve met, and it seems like there are friendships that are going to last when they do return home,” says Gregoris. “It’s really nice to see them catching up with each other in the hallways and outside of the club itself. I think it also helped bridge the gap for some students who were a little more reserved about meeting others, so that has been really nice to see. I think the big part of the exchange program is the experience of meeting new people and making those connections that will last for a long time.”

Smith says, “I like the diversity of the group and getting to meet new people and learning about other cultures and sharing my culture with other people.”

Brisson says this is the first year the club has been running at Chippewa after a few years of inactivity due to circumstances beyond the staff's control.

“We were on the verge of starting a club before the COVID-19 Pandemic, and then afterward we weren’t sure if Chippewa was going to have international students,” he says.

“But now, we are just as big as we ever were, if not bigger in terms of how many students we have, including students in grades seven and eight, and that number is growing every year. I think that benefits us when we have international students in class. These students share different views and have different experiences. I teach a lot of discussion-based classes, including World Issues, and in that class, there’s never a wrong answer, there’s only how you defend your opinion. So, getting to hear opinions from different parts of the world, benefits all the students within that group.”

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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