For one night a year, the home office of CultureWorks has a name change.
And that would be a late November evening when the Alumni Reunion and Holiday Open House takes over the historic Mary Manor.
On the Brescia University College campus and with due respect to the Ursuline Sisters, this is an evening of thanks; saying hello and giving hugs to former teachers; new students meeting alumni; and yes, even a night when Santa Claus makes an appearance.
On this night, it becomes the Merry Manor.
How a scholarship to our ESL School helped change a life
This year, close to 90 people were on hand — including more than 50 current students and alumni – to celebrate the holiday season. Seasonal music, training on how to make traditional tree decorations, a Secret Santa gift exchange, ginger bread cooking demonstrations and, of course, plenty of snacks.
To one of the many alumni in attendance, the evening and CultureWorks meant a great deal more.
“I consider myself and my sister two of the luckiest Syrians who came to Canada,” Faiez, the oldest son in a family of refugees, said during a break in the festivities.
“I started at CultureWorks 10 days after I arrived in Canada. So everything I did at the beginning of my journey in Canada was at CultureWorks.”
Faiez, now 25, said he and his sister, Helen – they arrived in Canada in 2016 — received scholarships from CultureWorks. Without those, he said he would not have been able to afford to learn English. Instead, he was in Western in sixth months; his sister in two.
His relationship with CultureWorks even reached the point where he had a part-time job, helping out in one of our English as a second language school’s elective programs.
“The teachers told us ‘whatever you need, whatever you want to ask about, you are welcome to ask us,’” Faiez said. “I used to ask them all the time ‘what’s this, what’s that.’ I had a lot of questions, especially about banks, credit cards. All this was new to me. They helped me a lot.”
How our English as a second language school creates a caring and academically challenging environment
Faiez was not alone in his praise. Thomas, 29, is a CultureWorks and Western grad now employed in the London banking community.
“Before you go to university, you don’t know what’s going on. Culture shock is like crazy. CultureWorks bridges that gap,” Thomas said.
Thomas said Liz Macedo from student services was a big help.
“We bug her all the time. We’re like ‘Liz, how do I pay my tuition; Liz, where can I get a bus pass. Or Liz, how do I set up my gym membership. They are the first people we always go to.”
Many of the alumni on hand had praise for the CultureWorks teachers. Eddie, 19, and now a Western civil engineering student, was one of them.
“Before I came here, I never spoke English to anyone,” Eddie said. “In China, the way we learn English is by reading, by listening, but not speaking. But here, the CultureWorks teachers, they are very strict with us.”
Eddie said Joel, one of his teachers, was amusing and strict at the same time. He appreciated the balance.
“He has a lot of rules that you have to follow, like no Chinese in the classroom. Even in the hallway, if he passed by and heard you speak Chinese to others, he would say ‘what did I hear? Is that Chinese?’ So you have to speak English and that really helps.”
Another favourite instructor at our ESL school was Teaguen.
“We all preferred Chinese; we all preferred to use the dictionary from our cell phone,” Eddie said. “But he said ‘as soon as you have a word you don’t the meaning of, just ask me. I’ll explain that in English to you so next time you see that word, you will remember what I said.’”
Ah yes, a brand new set of memories on this evening.
Until next year …
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