Hope is that students can work together across globe to create positive change
There were many tears when a group of students from Seoul, Korea, left for home after a 10-week stay with families from Strathroy Community Christian School last June.
Twenty children along with their 20 host families were milling around the airport, principal Marvin Bierling recalls, and “the tears were flowing everywhere.” The Korean students’ supervisor could barely choke out a goodbye because she was crying so much as well.
Bierling says this scenario confirmed for him that the international program SCCS runs is worthwhile.
“Those were all good tears,” he says. “They were (saying), ‘We learned to love you and care about you; we’re going to miss you.’”
Since last spring SCCS has been operating an international program, which sees a group of 20 students come from Seoul, Korea and stay for a 10-week period. A new group visits about every 10 weeks. Students attend regular classes at the school and live with host families from the SCCS community.
The objective on the part of the Korean students is full immersion in the English-speaking, Canadian culture.
For the SCCS community, the benefits have been multi-fold, according to Bierling, who emphasizes the impact the program has had on their worldview and life experience.
“Our students have really broadened their perspective on the world and what it means to know and help people in other countries,” he says, noting that prior to the introduction of this program SCCS could have been characterized as a small-town, homogeneous community with all that that implies.
With about 10 per cent of the school population now from another country on a routine basis, the school culture has changed, albeit in a “very positive way,” says Bierling.
In addition to enhancing the knowledge and understanding of a different part of the world, the program has brought many opportunities to enrich the life experiences of those involved.
“One of the exciting things is that our students have been applying the ideas of hospitality to some people that they actually don’t know, instead of just to people they’ve been in class with for many years,” says Bierling.
“They’ve had to reach out and be welcoming and encouraging and helpful, and it’s been wonderful to see our students reach out and do that.”
The SCCS community has also had a chance to experience and appreciate the strengths and gifts of the Korean students.
Many of the students continue to e-mail one another across the globe as a result of their time together.
Bierling says that the hope of the director of the Keystone Leadership Institute, which heads up the international program on the Korean side, is to eventually have the SCCS and Keystone students develop a common mission for making the world a better place.
“His desire is that in a number of years our students and his students are working together to positively change the world,” says the principal, noting that he has come to embrace that hope as well as he has seen how his students are being changed through their experiences with the Korean students.
Recently Bierling referred six students from Keystone that SCCS could not accommodate to another school that is a member of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), John Knox Christian School (JKCS) in Woodstock.
JKCS is also exploring the possibility of launching an international program.
Bierling says he would recommend other Christian schools consider the option, noting that what is most required is a sense of adventure, a healthy willingness to love and accept people they might not understand at first, and a good sense of humour.