The relatives are visiting Chemainus Elementary School.
Ten students in Grades 2 through 4 and four adults from Chemainus Elementary’s sister school in Chengdu, China have been here all week. The family members are all getting acquainted in a unique cultural experience.
“It is about building community,” said Chemainus Elementary principal Brenda Stevenson.
“At the end of the day, it’s about creating global citizens.”
There are obviously vast differences between the school curriculums for the students, but the exchange brings them together in a way that no one would have ever thought possible in the school system even a decade ago.
The language barriers don’t mean anything to kids. They always find a way to bridge the gap.
“I think if we as adults step back, children find their own magic,” reasoned Stevenson. “They learn to speak to each other.”
And things we might not think much about have fascinated the Chinese children, things like a rainbow that appeared near the school on Monday, pine cones and even deer poop on the school grounds.
The stage was set last year for Chemainus and Chengdu to become sister schools. Liz Gamble, the international principal for School District 79 who works on creating international partnerships with schools, presented the opportunity and Stevenson jumped at the chance.
In April, Stevenson went to China to establish the bonds of the relationship on a whirlwind trip lasting all of about three days.
“I went to the school to sign a partnership with the school,” she explained.
The official document signing made Chemainus Elementary one of three sister schools for Chengdu that also includes partnerships with schools in the U.K. and France.
The Chinese delegation arrived Sunday after a long trip. The message board outside the school welcomed the group in Mandarin.
“I asked them if they were tired,” pointed out Stevenson. “The children said ‘no’, they were excited.”
The adults felt a little bit differently, but were obviously just as enthusiastic to get going with the week. The vice principal of the school, a P.E. teacher, an agent and translator make up the group.
“What I found endearing,” noted Stevenson, “one of the little guys, he was very excited. He remembered me when I was there in April.”
None of the children have ever been to Canada. Two of the adults have also never been here.
The students made the rounds bright and early Monday at the school.
“It was cool, as I gave them a tour of the school, kids really are just kids,” noted Stevenson.
Some of them went rolling down the hill and quickly became integrated into the school population.
Tuesday’s agenda featured a barbecue after school hours. Wednesday, the Cowichan Valley Capitals Junior A hockey team came to the school for a floor hockey game.
Kelly-Ann Argue of Chemainus Tours planned an outing for the kids on Thursday in her horse-drawn carriages. Friday is a Pro-D Day at the school, but 10 of the older students are being provided a mentoring opportunity with them at Capernwray on Thetis Island.
Saturday features a trip to Goldstream Park in Victoria and the Chinese group has plans for a few tourist activities in Victoria and Vancouver before heading back home next week.
Now that the family ties are established, it bodes well for Chemainus students to visit China. Stevenson hopes that can happen within two years.