Learning English in a Uniquely Whistler Way

Whistler Question
February 2, 2016
By: Michelle Ratcliffe
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With an infectious enthusiasm for sharing cultures, Kate Turner, general director at International House Whistler has made a career of delivering English language programs with a personalized touch of cultural immersion.

The school’s daily lessons set students up with the skills to speak, listen, read and write English, but these skills really come to life in an enriched experience when students go beyond textbooks and connect with the community.

“We give them the tools to use in the real world — and our real world just so happens to be Whistler Village — it’s amazing,” said Turner, who creates an immersive experience with a robust calendar of social activities, inclusive home stays and volunteer opportunities.

Beyond the classroom

Overlooking Mountain Square, the school makes the most of its location with activities right on their doorstep.

“The best feedback that we consistently get is the location — we’re steps from the gondola and our winter schedule, which rotates from morning to afternoon classes, allows the students to get up on the mountain every other day,” said Turner.

In addition, she organizes a busy calendar of social activities that include everything from LUNA events to hikes and even Canucks games. Turner has found the comradery of sharing a meal together is the greatest way to break down language barriers. Barbecues and potlucks are always a hit, with students jumping at the opportunity to share cultures via cuisine.

Homestay heaven

Turner praises the fact that the school’s homestay families are involved in plenty of local activities that they can introduce students to.

“We’re really lucky here in Whistler, that we have these great families. The feedback is always incredible,” explained Turner, while pointing out that she is always on the lookout for great families to add to her roster.

Student stays average between two to four months with tight connections often forming. Turner has seen family ties lead hosts to visit students in their home countries and recalls one host even receiving a special Mother’s Day card years later.

“It’s a really neat program and there are a lot of benefits to hosting a student — not only financial. It’s like you’re travelling, but you’re not leaving your house. You’re getting a taste of the student’s culture — and for people with kids it’s a really cool experience,” said Turner.

“You’re welcoming somebody into your family for the time that they are here — into your daily routines, into your weekends, into your evenings — that’s immersion!”

A taste of local traditions

Lending a hand at festivals and events is something of a local tradition in this town, which is why Turner nudges visiting students to join in.

“The opportunities for volunteering here are endless and the students really get a kick out of events like the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Crankworx, Cornucopia, the Whistler Film Festival,” she said. “It’s an authentic experience outside the classroom and they get to meet other people in the community.”

Many students will volunteer with their host family or with other students. As Turner points out, it offers an opportunity to authentically introduce her students to the English language, but also to the unique culture of the community she calls home.

Turner on creating immersive experiences

“It’s no secret that Whistler is a special place and it’s an absolute pleasure for me to be a part of our students’ integration into the Whistler lifestyle and all that it has to offer. The neat thing is that the enthusiasm and excitement that our students have for getting into and experiencing everything Whistler inevitably translates into the improvement of their English without them even realizing it. It’s no wonder so many students come back to study with us again.”

Link to Whistler Question article: http://ow.ly/XS8Ll