Learning English at York was a ‘perfect’ experience

On Friday, June 27, two young women from South America said teary goodbyes to each other and vowed never to forget the past eight weeks they just spent learning English at York. The whole experience had been "perfect" – the classes, the teachers, Canada. And it never would have happened if York hadn’t paid their way.

Right: Katty Díaz, left, and Eline Gonçalves with their program certificates

Katty Díaz and Eline Gonçalves were among six Latin American university students who won scholarships to attend the eight-week summer language program this year. The program is offered by the York University English Language Institute, which initiated the scholarship program in 2005 to enable students from York’s partner institutions in Latin America to attend. Last year, three students received scholarships, each of which covers the cost of tuition, accommodation in Tatham Hall and a round-trip flight.

Díaz and Gonçalves have never travelled abroad before. Both are the first from their respective universities to receive the York scholarship. Their English has improved, they’ve made valuable professional connections – and they’ve fallen in love with Canada.

Díaz is 25 and has a BA in modern languages from the Universidad de los Andes in Merida, Venezuela. Already adept at English, York’s eight-week summer program helped her improve her fluency, which she has little chance of doing in her Spanish-speaking home. Her spoken English should be even better by the end of the summer when she completes a two-month internship working part time in the YUELI office.

Gonçalves is 24 and is finishing a masters degree in biogeochemistry at the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Though she can read and write English, "when I came here I couldn’t say anything," she said. "This experience to me was perfect because I need to use English in my work," said Gonçalves, who hopes to do doctoral studies abroad. "I need to speak it, I need to read it, I need to write it, everything is in English. English is the universal language in science." In two months, she doesn’t hesitate to express herself in her new tongue – and has made some valuable academic contacts.

"This was a really good experience, too, because I met some professors in the same field and maybe we can do things together in the future," said Gonçalves. "It’s good for my department and good for me."

"It’s a good beginning for us," said Díaz.

York, like the Canada they saw on day trips to downtown Toronto, Niagara Falls, the Toronto Zoo, and the CN Tower, impressed them as a multicultural place. "I like the experience to be in a classroom with so many different people who speak so many languages," said Díaz about her classmates from around the world in the summer language program. "Also outside to see so many different people and cultures and ethnic groups. It’s amazing." She said, "Canada is a country that gives you a lot of freedom. You can come here and keep your own culture. You are not forced to assimilate."

Díaz is staying another two months to work part time in the YUELI office. She is excited about living off campus and exploring Toronto more. She is grateful for the experience York made possible.

"I wouldn’t have come without the scholarship," she said, . "That’s a big thing. I have to thank everyone who made this possible to Latin American people."

"This program benefits everyone", says YUELI Director Calum MacKechnie, who initiated the scholarship program last summer. "The students have all been selected by their institutions for this award, and they bring great energy, as well as their cultures, to our programs. At the same time, the scholarship program benefits our partner institutions, and helps to kickstart their relationships with York."

"The YUELI scholarship has been a great academic and personal incentive for our English language students," says Maria Luisa Cárdenas, professor of English in the Department of Modern Languages at the Universidad de los Andes. "As the Venezuelan students who receive the scholarship have never traveled abroad before, this is a unique and life-changing opportunity to personally experience Canada and its rich culture. We are grateful to both York University and YUELI and hope to continue developing this international partnership."

By Martha Tancock, York communications officer