Congolese student stands out in many spirit and spiritual ways. Just ask his friends at CultureWorks.

intensive English training

CultureWorks in London, Ontario, plays host to three major student outings each year and this September day, Jean-Marcel Kabongo stood out from the crowd.

The occasion was the annual Spirit Day Barbeque and Picnic Games.

The weather was perfect. As usual, Student Services leader Liz Macedo was there at 10:30 a.m., getting the Fanshawe Park facilities ready for the action.

Frisbee darts, washer toss, ladder golf, egg and spoon race, and the always heated tug of war event were set up for the 60 students who would arrive 90 minutes later. The caterers were organized for lunch by the time the two buses arrived.

And of course, CultureWorks Vice-Principal Stan Rath had, along with Liz, spent hours and days organizing the event well in advance.

Jean-Marcel is an enthusiastic and friendly student at our ESL school

Now, it was time for Principal Derek Martin to introduce the teachers and staff along with the various countries represented by the students on hand. Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the large contingent from China were all mentioned.

Principal Derek Martin greets students at the annual Spirit Day Barbeque and Picnic Games
Principal Derek Martin greets students at the annual Spirit Day Barbeque and Picnic Games

But Jean-Marcel was front and centre for a variety of reasons, including the fact he not only represented his country, but also his continent.

The stylish and highly visible Jean-Marcel Kabongo hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the continent of Africa.

“I think it’s more of (Jean-Marcel) as an individual than his culture generally,” Stan said, explaining the omni-presence of the Congolese student. “Just a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Really encourages his teammates to participate at 110 per cent in everything. Wonderful to have him boost the energy level for everyone.”

Jean-Marcel is fit and his participation in the events was outstanding. After the tug-of-war event, for instance, the Level 6 student dropped to his knees and did several push-ups.

“After that, I was tired and exhausted,” Jean-Marcel said with a smile.

Tug of war is always a popular event
Tug of war is always a popular event

And for the special day, Jean-Marcel wore a stylish white fedora. The habit of wearing the hats came from his late father.

“I called him the Man of Hats. He wore many hats and that’s why I enjoy them. Actually, I just have three,” he said.

Jean-Marcel talks about his career ambitions

There is much more to 26-year-old Jean-Marcel Kabongo than pushups and stylish hats. He is the sixth oldest of a family of five boys and three girls, and his intensive English training is extremely important to him, with his vocation taking him in a clear direction.

Jean-Marcel will be a priest one day after he concludes his time at CultureWorks, King’s University College and St. Peter’s Seminary, with some side trips to the St. Boniface diocese in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Jean-Marcel said the idea of becoming a priest was hard for him at first.

“I didn’t have any idea to become a priest, but it was my dad and my mom and they tried to push me in that way. I didn’t appreciate it the first time but I did afterward.

“In my country, it was so expensive be a priest. So I told them it was more expensive than any other university study. They said ‘we will be able to afford your tuition.’ I said it’s expensive and they said ‘no, we know it’s expensive, but we will be able to afford your studies.”

“Some discipline and some other roles were so hard for me for the first time. Actually six years ago. So I went to seminary at home and I started to study with support from many other people, so I get to my vocation to become a priest.”

The first major step was to learn English after his local priest suggested he study in Canada. His current home is the St. Peter’s Seminary, next to King’s University College.

“I actually owe a great deal of gratitude to CultureWorks. When I came to Canada, I didn’t have enough English. Getting in touch with people was so hard for me, but through CultureWorks, I improved my English.

“I really enjoy how CultureWorks is organized. How they improved my English. It’s a good program for me.”

And getting away from his homeland made some sense.

“The Eastern part of my country are rebels. And so it is complicated. The East has been in the trouble for a long time. Actually, it’s getting better.

Jean-Marcel is slated to graduate from CW at the end of the year and then head to King’s University College. He will also then return to St. Boniface for a “few years” before returning home to Africa.

“Home is home. Nothing is like home,” he said.

And at that point, it will be hat’s on to Father Jean-Marcel.

Jean-Marcel at home ‘slowly but surely’

Jean-Marcel shares his experience at CultureWorks
Jean-Marcel shares his experience at CultureWorks

The Jean-Marcel Kabongo story is a happy one.

Leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo to reach his goal of becoming a priest in Canada has been, by and large, a smooth ride.

But when students leaving their homes to study far, far away, it is not always perfect.

Jean-Marcel is in that category and was open about his initial stress.

“Here for the first time, I had culture shock,” Jean-Marcel said. “Getting away from my relatives. It was pretty hard for me to integrate myself. The first months here were the loneliest.

“I could not speak with people because my English was pretty much bad. It was pretty hard to open myself to other people. So I lived that time in solitude. It was very hard for me.”

CultureWorks Vice-Principal Stan Rath knew what Jean-Marcel had gone through.

“It’s really understood what culture shock is and how it impacts on people. It impacts differently on different people, but generally there is this sort of a cycle they go through.”

Stan said to help combat that and to support students throughout, all of the teachers at CultureWorks ESL school have lived and worked in a foreign culture. Therefore, they have personal insight into what that experience is like so that they can relate directly to the students experience, he said.

“Culture shock is often integrated into the program as a topic, taught in subjects such as academic support,” he said. “It is something all of the staff is aware of, they understand what it is and that it’s a typical factor in every student’s experience, especially the first six months.”

Jean-Marcel said after three months, he understood that it was normal to go through this kind of situation.

“I am trying to fit into Canadian culture. It comes with time. Slowly but surely.”

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