Fanny Salas, a university student in Chile, is studying to be an English teacher. But living in a country in which the official language is Spanish means opportunities to learn and practice English are hard to come by. Now in her last semester, she decided to investigate English language programs at a variety of international universities.
“Most of the programs I found were six months long and I wasn’t able to do that because I had to be back in Chile for my practicum,” recalls Fanny. “Then I found the Explore Program at the University of Regina.”
The Explore Program is a five-week summer program dedicated to helping students improve their English and learn about local culture. Students live in private rooms on campus and the program fee covers all tuition, textbooks and materials, activities, accommodation, access to the campus gym and swimming pool, and arrival and departure transportation. But what makes this program particularly unique is that it allows international students to learn alongside French-Canadian students. “You don’t often get a mix of International and French-Canadian students taking English programs together,” says Karlie Butler, Explore Director and Coordinator of Customized Programs, “and the benefit is an amazing level of diversity that students really enjoy.”
For Johnel Ngandu, a Francophone from Halifax, this program was appealing as a way to ultimately expand his career opportunities. “Nova Scotia is primarily an English-speaking province but I speak French at home and with my friends. This program has been really great not only because of the English immersion aspect but also the fact that I’m able to meet students from different countries. Discovering and learning about other student’s cultures, their backgrounds and stories has been amazing. It puts things into perspective that there are so many things to see around the world.”
Johnel, far right, and Fanny, right, walking with fellow Explore Program students at the U of R campus
Indeed, students of all ages arrive from as far away as South Korea, Chile and Mexico, with varying levels of English language skills. Traveling thousands of miles from home to an environment in which you don’t know anyone or speak the language can be a daunting prospect, but any uncertainties are quickly put to rest. “They made it so easy for us,” says Johnel. “From the first day that I was accepted, they’ve updated me every step of the way so I knew exactly what was going to happen.”
Fanny agrees. “I arrived at 2 am at the airport after a 24-hour flight and there was someone there to welcome me and pick me up. When I arrived at the University residence I thought it was like a hotel – everything here is very beautiful.”
To help students connect and engage in the program, Explore staff and cultural assistants begin with a series of fun activities. “We visit Wascana Park, do some fun team-building activities and take a relaxed approach the first few days so that we start creating opportunities for students to interact,” says Karlie.
The program relies on a combination of in-class and off-campus activities to facilitate learning and speaking English. “It’s very organized,” says Fanny. “We have breakfast and classes in the morning and then lunch and more classes. There’s a two-hour break and sometimes we have activities in the evenings. On the weekends we tour around the city. We went to SkyPark Regina and it was really great – I’d never been on a go kart and it was fun to race with my classmates.”
“Just the fact that the only language we all have in common is English means we have to speak it if we want to communicate,” says Johnel. “There are a lot of laughs as we try to find the right word. Sometimes Google Translate is our best friend.”
As the weeks go by, lasting connections are formed. “There really is a bond happening between people here and not only because we have learned English together in class but because we have spent so much time together,” adds Johnel. “I’ll miss them but we’ll stay in touch.”
Fanny agrees and notes that the group’s English skills have improved more quickly than she had thought possible. “When I get back to Chile I’m going to tell everyone that you don’t have to take a six-month course when you can improve so much in five weeks. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”