Colombian, Japanese English-learners form bonds

July 20, 2017

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A “perfect symbiotic relationship” is how Dan Evans, director of the College’s English Language programs, described 55 summer English-learners — 31 from Colombia, 24 from Japan this year — who share quarters, take classes together and become a close family in three weeks together at Saint Michael’s.

Evans’ remarks opened a July 17 graduation ceremony in Dion Family Student Center for the group from Gimnasio Vermont (GV) in Bogota, Colombia, a private high school that has sent summer-study cohorts to Saint Michael’s for 23 years under the guidance of vice-rector Clara Galvis.

Galvis came to Vermont with “emerita” status this year for the first time, guiding associates Claudia Aguirre and Juliana Cubillos as the program’s future leadership.

In their weeks on campus, the graduating Colombians have been living alongside the Japanese group of slightly older college-aged students from International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo. ICU first sent students to Saint Michael’s in 1999, and each year since 2011, they’ve lived as neighbors with GV students in the modern and comfortable suite-style residence halls, this year in Canterbury Hall, enriching the experience of both groups as they learn English, Evans said.

Warm personal connections were evident in a slide show during Monday’s ceremony, presented as a goodbye gift by the Japanese students, who will be staying on campus and learning for another three weeks

Evans said the Colombians bring “so much energy and joy into their classes, and the Latin American culture that they infuse into our program is eagerly soaked up by the students from Japan…” He explained why he felt the “symbiotic relationship” worked so well: “The ICU students bring high levels of intelligence and maturity, and the GV students, also very intelligent, add their higher level of fluency and open communication style that motivates the ICU students to push the boundaries of their comfort level and express themselves more,” Evans said.

Karen Talentino, Saint Michael’s vice president for Academic Affairs, surprised the group by making some of her remarks in Spanish, which was well-received by the graduates. The faculty speaker was Joan Kyddof the English program faculty, while student speakers included Daniel Cardona and Valentina Montilla from GV and Shoya Taniguchi from ICU. The graduates were presented certificates of completion, and refreshments followed.

The last frame of the slide show read “We ICU students love you Colombians.” The departure of the younger group the next day brought many hugs and tears, Evans said, which is typical. After the GV students departed, Evans said, the classes for the remaining Japanese added 11 “academic partners” from among the local Burlington-area immigrant population, including some from India and Iraq, to sustain the enriching diversity for the Japanese during their remaining weeks.

Evans said the English program also has a session under way with Kanazawa Technical College in Japan, coordinated by Chistina Mager. “This is another partner we have been working with for over 20 years,” he said, adding that that group hosted a coffee hour this week, and will have their own graduation on August 2.

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