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In China, students prep for Canada with a B.C. education - The Globe and Mail

TAMSYN BURGMANN
TONGXIANG, China - The Canadian Press

It's a muggy afternoon in June and high school students wearing T-shirts stamped with the image of Terry Fox stride past towering high-rises and scooters with honking horns in this small Chinese city that's been coated in haze from the local fiberglass factory for several days.

For most, it's their first time making the fundraising trek that's annual tradition half-a-world away in a country where they yearn to attend university.

The academy was opened in 2005 by a private Chinese businessman who lives in mainland B.C. The company is based in Hong Kong and teaches Grades 10 to 12. Currently, students earn B.C.'s Dogwood Diploma by studying Canadian curriculum during the day and their Chinese diploma via more classes after a dinner break. The school day starts at 7:15 a.m. and ends at 9:40 p.m. All students must pass a rigorous application process and pay tuition to attend.

"It's such a brave thing for them to do, to come in when they are 16 years old and learn science in English, math in English," Ironside says. "They are pretty resilient, pretty motivated. They're developing a skill-set to work with a whole new culture. The nuances, the body language, the colloquial way of speaking."

Arielle Fraser, a tall blonde who is currently the school's only female instructor, draws perpetual stares and hollers from the locals whenever she leaves campus.

She says her biggest obstacle has been getting her hands on Canadian content in a nation where the government bans YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. But with the help of her Internet-savvy students, she has managed to incorporate such Canuck mainstays as Stompin' Tom Connors, episodes of the early 1980s TV show Degrassi and current events in which students read about recent controversies involving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Fraser took three weeks to prepare her students for the standardized exams that account for 20 per cent of all B.C. high school students' grades in specific courses. Obscure cultural references aren't familiar to students who grow up outside Canada, she explained, giving the example of an exam question mentioning an athlete swimming across Lake Ontario.

"If they haven't studied Canadian geography, they're not going to have any idea what a feat that is," she says. "Or, if it's a story about Native Americans living on a reserve and somebody mentions moccasins ... they may be totally clueless."

Next year, the staff anticipates further challenges after new guidelines came down from B.C.'s education ministry making it mandatory for off-shore students to pass those exams in order to pass the course.

"I'm a little bit grumpy about that," says Ironside. "I think there is an inherent unfairness. This is sensitive, but why does my student have to pass it but a student in Coquitlam or Vancouver or Victoria doesn't?"

There are other tangible differences instructors teaching the same classes in Canada wouldn't expect, says Eric Cooper, a University of New Brunswick grad, who has worked at the academy for four years. Students must bring their own toilet paper and hand soap to school, while classes often run on Saturdays to make up for a mid-week, government-mandated holiday, which has usually been announced last minute.

"It's two systems that are trying to work together," Cooper says. "There are sometimes culture clashes, but they're not super serious."

Grade 11 student Hope Huang is among the few keen to score high grades specifically because he's adamant about permanently leaving China to gain a better quality of life.

"Here, maybe I can make money or have a good car or something else, but I think in Canada (I will) enjoy the environment," says the 17-year-old, who wants to study psychology at Simon Fraser University.

"Maybe I can have happiness."

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Terry Fox Run (Run for cancer research fund-raising context) at West Lake in Hangzhou.

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