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Selkirk celebrates 25 years of international education

International Student Coordinator Philomena Archambault (left) and ESL/TESOL Instructor John Armstrong (right) are excited to celebrate friendship between students, homestay families, partner institutions and staff. Selkirk College is hosting a special reunion on July 8, 9 and 10 at the Castlegar campus to celebrate 25 years of International Education.

Selkirk College is hosting a special reunion on July 8, 9 and 10 at the Castlegar campus to celebrate 25 years of International Education.

Hundreds of students from five continents and more than 25 countries have come to study and experience life in the West Kootenay over the past quarter century. 

"Over the years, our Kootenay communities have welcomed international students into their homes and their cities," says Vi Kalesnikoff, dean of community, corporate and international development.

"We're looking forward to celebrating this landmark with our community, past alumni and partner institutions."

English as a Second Language (ESL) courses at Selkirk College date back to the early 1980s when classes focused primarily on conversational English and employment assistance for new immigrants and refugees in the West Kootenay. Classes were offered in Castlegar, Trail, Nelson, Grand Forks , Kaslo and Nakusp. 

Selkirk's International program began in earnest in 1986 when the Castlegar campus received its first seven students from Hong Kong. With no bus service to the college, instructors took turns picking students up and driving them home at the end of the day. By 1987, a second group of 14 students arrived, bus service to the college began and a separate department was formed for International Education.

These days, approximately 300 international students come to Selkirk each year. Most arrive with more English than they did in the 1980s and 1990s; many international students now enter directly into post-secondary diploma programs such as Business Administration and Resort and Hotel Management. 

Selkirk International has continually adapted its English Language program to meet the needs of its increasingly sophisticated international clientele. Today's program offers six levels of academic courses, as well as theme-based seminars and opportunities to participate in the local community.  Through multiple entry dates and a modularized curriculum, the program is designed to accommodate both long-term academic students and those seeking a short-term cultural experience. 

The language program is made richer by the mix of international and domestic students, including Canadian students who come each year from Amos, a small town in Quebec. According to ESL/Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Instructor John Armstrong, who has been a part of the program since its inception, English is not something he teaches only in the classroom. Curriculum extends to outside the classroom through life experiences.

"Because were a fairly small program and diversions in Castlegar are limited, we create opportunities for students to build their own international community. Students go camping at Camp Koolaree, they ski and snowboard at Red Mountain and we organize special activities like the Lunar New Year Festival at the college. The only common language students have is English so they get a lot of practice communicating in their new language."

For some students, the English Language program acts as a stepping stone to other programs. Many international students have gone on to complete diplomas and degrees at Selkirk and at several Canadian universities. Since 2004, Selkirk International has also offered a TESOL program for people who wish to teach English internationally. The exceptional learning opportunity is the cornerstone of the programs success. But there is another fundamental reason that this program has thrived.

"Our host families play a huge role by helping students settle in. If they can go home to good meals and a nice family that truly cares about them-this is what students need," explains Philomena Archambault, international student coordinator since 1987. "They are in a country where they don't know anybody. Our homestay families strive to do their best for them and the students really appreciate it."

Many homestay families have been part of the international program for more than a dozen years. Deep and lasting connections often develop between hosts and international students. Some host parents have even been invited to their former students weddings.

Selkirk International not only invites students from afar to come to Castlegar, it also sends local students overseas. Through its ongoing partnerships with many international institutions, Selkirk International cultivates opportunities for Canadian students and teachers to work, study and volunteer abroad. As well, through project work and grants, the college supports education in developing countries such as Georgia, Chile, Suriname and Vietnam.

Selkirk International is excited to celebrate 25 years of friendship between students, homestay families, partner institutions and staff. All friends and homestay families are welcome to participate in the reunion event on July 8, 9 and 10. For more information or to register, visit, email or call Robin Trudel at 250-365-1306.