WCPS welcomes Chinese students with Lunar New Year celebration

Chino, left, and Agnes, right, are two of the Chinese exchange students that will be attending Wolf Creek schools for the next five months as part of WCPS' International Learning Program. Here, they are pictured doing some paper cutting as part of Lunar New Year festivities at the Lacombe Memorial Centre on Tuesday evening. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

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Lunar New Year celebrations mark the start of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar, but this year in Lacombe, it also marked the arrival of a few Chinese visitors.

Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) welcomed 15 students in grades 6-8 from both the Liwan Education Bureau and the Guangzhou Overseas Foreign Language School Saturday as part of their International Learning Program. Although they’re in the country to learn more about Canadian and Albertan culture, a Lunar New Year celebration Tuesday at the Lacombe Memorial Centre aimed to make the newcomers feel a little more at home.

“These students are away from their families for the first time, in many cases, for a five month period,” said WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Learning Services Mark McWhinnie.

“They haven’t been away from home for a celebration time of year like Chinese New Year or Spring Festival time. That’s an important time in their culture, so we wanted to make sure they felt at home and the community was embracing them and they had an opportunity to share their culture.”

The evening was spent watching presentations by students about

Last year, WCPS became the first school district in the province to host an exchange with a school district in Guangdong Province, despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) being signed by Alberta in 2007.

They hosted 65 students for a two-week stay over the summer, and with its success, it was time to host students for an extended, five-month stay.

McWhinnie says exchanges are important in helping students understand different ways of life.

“It brings diversity and the exchange of ideas and culture into our school system, and an appreciation for new ways of doing things,” he said.  “It’s understanding how a school is different in China compared to Canada – even the length of their school day. Many students feel that our system is very relaxed and teachers build a really good relationship with students.”

He said it was fascinating to watch the Chinese students  explore and enjoy many of the things Albertans would take for granted, including snow and winter sunrises, western cuisine and even the size of the average North American home.

Amongst the students visiting is Taiyang “Dirk” Liang, who like his fellow Chinese students opted to use a more “Canadian” name while in the country.

One of his first reactions to arriving in the country was to the weather, but it didn’t dampen his view of Canada.

“It’s freezing – I burnt my ears,” he said. “It’s pretty nice so far to experience a really different style of life. It made me shocked at first, but I got used to it.”

Just a few days into the stay, he already says he loves his host family, and wants to return to Canada in the future to attend high school or college.

“I can get a different experience of education. I want to try many kinds of life and broaden my horizons,” he said.

Agnes, another student, says her parents wanted her to study in English in Canada, and that along with making friends is what she’s most looking forward to.

She, too, commented on some of the weather.

“Canada is very beautiful, the houses are beautiful and the air is very fresh,” she said. “I can see snow – I can’t see it in China.”

WCPS is also working on sending 24 of their grade 9-12 students from seven different schools over to China. Students are expected to head over in March, and they’ll stay in Guangdong Province for two weeks.

Unlike the students visiting Canada, they won’t have the added benefit of a Chinese language program, but it may come in the future.

As part of that, a couple of Chinese teachers will visit in two weeks time and begin professional development. McWhinnie says WCPS teachers will do the same in China during the March exchange.

“There’s an exchange of practice and strategies and seeing how we teach students in different cultures. When those teachers are here, they will also have opportunity to share things like Chinese cooking, language – Mandarin, Cantonese – and expanding even some of our offerings in Wolf Creek,” he said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley also issues a statement Tuesday in honour of the Lunar New Year.

“As Albertans of many diverse backgrounds celebrate the Lunar New Year, I wish you prosperity and health.

“The Lunar New Year is a time of generosity, gift-giving and renewal. Families and friends gather for sumptuous meals, community celebrations and fireworks displays.

“All across the province, Albertans are building on traditions that have deep roots in China and Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia. By sharing and creating these cultural connections, they are helping to build a more welcoming, caring and diverse society.

“As the new year dawns, we look forward to a new beginning and think of those who brought us here. We welcome the Year of the Pig and will continue to work to build an even better future.

“Every day, we are fighting to create jobs, protect our schools and hospitals, and ensure the economic recovery reaches every kitchen table in the province.

“On behalf of my family, may you and yours have good health, good luck and much happiness throughout the year.”