Johanna Söderström (left) and María José Romero came from Sweden and Ecuador to learn English at Smithers Secondary School.

Johanna Söderström (left) and María José Romero came from Sweden and Ecuador to learn English at Smithers Secondary School.

International students without options during teachers’ strike

Söderström and Romero are two of nine students in the program in town who are affected by the strike.

If Johanna Söderström and María José Romero were in their home countries right now, they would be in high school learning English and mathematics and doing homework with their fellow classmates.

Instead, they are forced to find ways to keep themselves occupied in Smithers as the teachers’ strike encroaches on the third week of the school year.

Söderström is a cultural student from Sweden, while Romero is from Ecuador. Both were hoping to start Grade 12 at Smithers Secondary School in the first week of September during their first trip to Canada.

“I decided I wanted to have a cultural exchange and I wanted to become better at English. [Friday] we were at Twin Falls and Moricetown and [saw] some bears  . . . I’ve never seen a bear before,” said Söderström. “It’s like a short vacation when you don’t have school here.”

The girls are part of a program called Shecana International Schools Ltd., located in Prince George that brings international students to the country, immerses them in Canadian culture and enrols them in school for 10 months.

Söderström and Romero are two of nine students in the program in town who are affected by the strike.

So far, Söderström has tried volleyball during an informal practice at the school gym and Romero tried rugby for the first time at the track last Thursday night.

They have also had a tour of the school, but that is the closest they’ve gotten to being inside a classroom.

And while both girls are enjoying the free time, they do hope the strike will end soon.

“We have been doing things, so it’s not like it’s really sad, but if school doesn’t start for a while, it might become a bit [difficult],” said Söderström.

They are supposed to be here for the rest of the school year, however, the program can’t be extended past the 10 months.

“My parents want us to start class,” said Romero.

René Bakker, with the host family, has had the responsibility of keeping the girls entertained during school hours.

“Everyday we do something different,” said Bakker. “Yesterday we made antipasto and they’ve never canned before. We learn together and we talk. It would just be nice if the strike was over.”

Dawn Marquardt, general manager of the international school, said area reps are working to keep students occupied.

“In Smithers, the area reps have tried to get some events together and the host families have been very good at getting the students out and doing things, but it’s pretty limited what we can offer there for them,” she said.

She added that a few students have already made the switch from SSS to the Bulkley Valley Christian School, a program Söderström said she may have to consider enrolling in if classes doesn’t start up again soon.

“I think I’ll have to go to another school, the [Bulkley Valley] Christian School, maybe,” she said, adding that they made friends at the BVCS during a recent tour and on the sports teams.

According to Marquardt, BVCS has invited a few students, but can’t accept all of them.

“If they did go over, they have to stay there for the remainder of the year,” said Marquardt.

“Most of the students would prefer to go to the regular high school. They’re just holding out hoping that school will be back in session soon.”

As of last week, the program didn’t have a contingency plan, but Marquardt noted students do have the option of leaving the program and returning home early if the strike continues.

“Some students may possibly return home and we certainly don’t want that to happen. I think that is a possibility,” she said.

As for Söderström and Romero, they will both continue playing volleyball and rugby until picket lines come down.