This week our guest is Joel Bergeron, the assistant operations director at CSLI, a language school in downtown Vancouver. Bergeron, who comes from a little farming town in Ontario near Toronto works bringing students from over 79 countries to study in Vancouver. He loves working at CSLI because it blends together all of the things he enjoys. He gets to meet people from all over the world and learn about new cultures. In his spare time Bergeron loves to go sailing, and is training to become a sailing instructor.  

 

What are the top 3 challenges an international student will face when he first arrives in Vancouver?


The first real challenge for students is the first two weeks! Facing the overwhelming culture shock of navigating a new city, and practicing a new language. I always tell students that the first month will be the hardest, and after that it will get easier as you get more comfortable with your surroundings.

The second challenge would be finding a great school. There are so many schools across the city, and finding the perfect fit can be overwhelming for students. I always tell students to ask LOTS of questions and always try a free class before making a decision. I also advise students to choose the school which is the best fit for them and not decide on the cheapest school. This is your chance to study hard and improve your English, and you get what you pay for.

The last challenge would be for students to find accommodation other than homestays. Finding an apartment, choosing a neighborhood, and signing a contract can be challenging in a new country. A good school should have offer some support in helping students with their questions.  

 

How can students adjust to the local Canadian culture? Could you give them some practical advice?


I think the best thing for students who are trying to adjust to Canada is to understand a bit of our history and what makes Canada a bit different than many other countries.  First, Canada is a "baby" country in comparison to countries who have thousands of years of history, language, and culture. Second, Canada was built on multiculturalism and immigration, so figuring out what is "Canadian" can be hard even for Canadians! If you understand this, I think it will go a long way to helping you fit into Canadian life.

Practical advice? Get involved. Join a sports team, volunteer, join a group....all of these things will allow you to really integrate and practice your English in real situations. Many students have studied for years from a textbook...Vancouver is your chance to speak!

 

If you were to learn English in Vancouver for 1 year, what kind of process would you follow? What actions would you take?


The first thing I would do is to look up schools which are members or accredited by Languages Canada, EQA- Educational Quality Assurance, and Quality English which are the  leading standards of Quality education in Canada and around the world.  Then I would visit 2-3 schools to try a class, ask questions, and find a school that was right for me.  

You also need to really think about your goals and dreams related to learning English.  Why do you need English? Knowing what your goal is will help you select courses and schools.  for example, if your goal is to attend university, you will want to find courses related to exam preparation and academics.  If your goal is to improve your English for work, you may want to focus on English for specific purposes such as business English and career internship programs.

I would also spend at least three months living with a Canadian homestay, where I could truly immerse myself in Canadian culture, while adjusting to the new city.  

Finally, I would try to be busy, and to get involved in as many activities as possible.  Websites such as Meetup.com are excellent for joining groups of people who have similar interests such as photography, sports, hiking, etc.

 

How far in advance should a student plan his trip to Vancouver? What are the steps involved prior to starting a program with a Vancouver ESL school?


Actually, as long as you have the proper visa coming to Vancouver is quite easy! There are lots of companies who specialize in helping students set up with everything from homestay, airport pickup, health insurance, and even social events.  Vancouver is safe, with excellent city infrastructure, so navigating the city yourself is quite easy.

Here is a basic step-by-step guide of how to study English in Vancouver:

1)   Visit or contact the local Canadian embassy or consulate in your country in order to find out exactly what type of visa you need, and how to apply.  Many countries are except from visas for 6 months: (You can find the visa exempt countries here)  Different countries will have different visa processing times, regulations, requirements, and applications.  Visiting the embassy or consulate will answer all of your questions directly.

2) If you do require a visa, the first step is to apply to a school.

3) The school does not issue the visa!  They can provide you with the letter of acceptance which will support your visa application.

4) Apply for the student visa at your local Canadian embassy or consulate.

5) Receive your visa, and come to Vancouver!

 

Should foreign students try to date local Canadian people in Vancouver to fast track the learning process?


This subject often comes up in class about the best ways to learn a language! I think, date people you like! Living, studying, volunteering, and getting involved in Canada is enough!