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This article was published 11/8/2018 (729 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Each winter, planeloads of Manitobans flock to Mexico. This summer, a bunch of Mexicans came to Manitoba.
Thirty post-secondary students are in the province for the first time, as part of the Mexican government’s Proyecta 10,000 initiative that’s sending 10,000 students to various locations in Canada to learn the culture and history, and practise their English. From July 15 to Aug. 12, they attended Red River College’s Language Training Centre, which mixes classes with field trips for the young Mexicans billeted at the homes of Winnipeggers.
It’s the first time computer engineering student Jonathan Villanueva, 23, and aspiring accountant Karla Martin, 21, had left Mexico and had to rely on their English skills outside the classroom.
"When I was settled inside the plane and the flight attendant starting speaking in English, then French, I thought, ‘I’m really doing it,’" the Spanish-speaking Villanueva said.
“People are very friendly and respectful.”
Facing immersion in English was daunting. "My English, it’s not the best," said the humble young man, who was able to answer a reporter’s questions with little hesitation.
For Martin, an avid sports fan who watched the Stanley Cup playoffs on pay-per-view TV with her family near Mexico City, Winnipeg was a familiar place name.
"I heard about Winnipeg," said Martin, who’s since gotten to know the city up close. She kayaked along the Red River with her homestay host, visited FortWhyte Alive, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball game and used Winnipeg Transit to get from Windsor Park to weekday classes at the Via Rail station on Main Street.
"You meet people on the bus," Martin said. "People are very friendly and respectful."
The students say their month in Friendly Manitoba is something they won’t take for granted.
They had to work hard to earn the sought-after scholarship. To be eligible, they needed high-level English language skills, good grades, good attendance and letters of reference. They were too polite to brag about how much their spoken English had improved in Winnipeg (but program facilitator Carleigh Friesen said it was a lot).
Each participant was recorded at the beginning and the end of the program, and assessed for things such as the number of words spoken and pronunciation.
"I’m astounded with how much it grew," Friesen said of the class fluency, vocabulary and pronunciation.
Having to communicate full time in English was a challenge, but very rewarding, said Villanueva, who volunteered at Folklorama’s Mexican Pavilion. "It’s really helpful."
Aside from all the learning and immersion, Villanueva said his favourite field trip was going to see a Goldeyes game.
"It was my first time at a baseball court," he said, before someone corrected him that it’s called a "stadium," not a "court." The Assiniboine Park Zoo was also a highlight, he said.
"I was amazed by the polar bears. It was a really good experience."
Martin said she will never forget the animals she saw during a five-hour kayak adventure on the Red River. "We saw rabbits, squirrels and elks," said Martin, who was looking for the word "deer."
For the past five years, Red River College’s Language Training Centre has organized a "summer institute" — a four- or two-week program that’s usually attended by students from sister schools in China to improve language skills. This was the first summer it played host to students from Mexico — Friesen hopes it’s not the last.
"The community really embraced them," she said.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Updated on Sunday, August 12, 2018 at 11:40 AM CDT: Adds photos
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