Coming from a city of close to nine million people, Keiko Kawamura says Squamish sure seems a little different. But it’s the nature that strikes you first.
“I was very moved because the mountains where very near to the town,” said the vice principal of Tokyo’s Kita Toshima Junior High School.
For the past three years, the school’s called Squamish home for its overseas English summer program. The initiative is organized in partnership with Vancouver-based Muskoka Language International, a Canadian company that specializes in operating unique English as a second language (ESL) programs.
This summer, 40 students — ages 13 to 18 — from the all-girls school are practicing their English in the Sea to Sky Corridor. The students board at Quest University and spend a day with a family in Squamish. They capped the week off with a cultural celebration on Sunday, July 15, which included Japanese games and traditional dancing.
For many of the students it’s their first time aboard, Kawamura said. The trip gives them an opportunity to meet Canadians and try new things.
“We think Squamish is a good place for students learning English,” Kawamura said, adding its residents are friendly and the town is close to Whistler.
Last year, the program saw 60 students visit Squamish, said MLI’s groups coordinator Liz Kim. That number fluctuates with the high school’s class size. MLI tries to promote small towns throughout Canada and Squamish fit the bill, Kim added.
“Squamish is just so picturesque,” she said. “Students enjoy being outdoors there.”
Cheryl Lee, MLI’s director, grew up in Squamish. The community represents a great opportunity for growth in language programs, she said. In August, MLI is organizing a week-long visit by group of six youth and seven adults from Shimizu-cho — Squamish’s Japanese sister city. They will stay with local families and have a pizza lunch with Mayor Rob Kirkham, Lee said.
“Squamish represents what people think Canada is,” she said. “Amazing nature and friendly people.”