New bridging program taps into foreign-trained talent

Cecilia Luko never imagined it would be so hard to find a job in her field when she arrived in Canada last summer with her husband and year-old daughter, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 19.

At 34, the South American came armed with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, 13 years of experience as an audit manager for a multinational public accounting firm and fluency in English. But when she started shopping around her resumé, nobody called back.

"I realized that you pretty much required Canadian experience and, in my case, I needed certification," recalls Luko, who grew up in São Paulo, Brazil.

While contemplating a master of business administration to boost her job prospects, Luko came across an ad for York University‘s Bridging Program for Internationally Educated Professionals.

The program prepares foreign-trained business and information technology experts to work in Canada by helping them upgrade basic skills such as English, math and business writing, learn how Canadians do business, and work towards certification in business and information technology-related professions. The pilot program is supported by the Ontario government.

Companies such as IBM, Ernst & Young and Research In Motion as well as professional associations sit on the advisory board. Many offer internships, with their employees serving as mentors to answer questions and provide moral support.

York’s bridging program enrolled its first students in May – 44 in business and 23 in IT. They hail from 33 countries and have many things in common: they are all over 30, they all came to Canada with family within the past three years, and they all possess university degrees. More than half have a master’s or PhD.

All have at least six years of work experience in their home country and are "painfully underemployed," says Nora Priestly, the program’s project manager. Most are taking the course on a part-time basis while working at "survival jobs" to make ends meet until they find a position in their field. 

"These are some of the bravest people I’ve ever met in my life," says Priestly. "They’re resourceful, they’re energetic, they are very positive about their experience despite the challenges." 

Bringing up a bilingual child with help from the babysitter

When Maureen Mazumder enrolled her daughter, Sabrina, in a Spanish singalong class a year ago, she hoped it would be the first step in helping her learn a second language. But the class did not seem to do the trick, so Mazumder decided to hire a baby sitter, one who would not only care for her daughter but also speak to her exclusively in Spanish, reported The New York Times Aug. 19.

Mazumder, whose daughter is nearly three, has company. Although a majority of parents seeking caretakers for their children still seek ones who will speak to their children in English, popular parenting blogs and Web sites indicate that a noticeable number of New York City parents are looking for babysitters and nannies to help their children learn a second language, one they may not speak themselves.

In recent years, a number of neuroscientists and psychologists have tried to untangle the impact of bilingualism on brain development. "It doesn’t make kids smarter," said Ellen Bialystok, a professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and the author of Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy & Cognition.

"There are documented cognitive developments," she said, "but whatever smarter means, it isn’t true."

Bialystok’s research shows that bilingual children tend to have smaller vocabularies in English than their monolingual counterparts, and that the limited vocabulary tends to be words used at home (spatula and squash) rather than words used at school (astronaut, rectangle). The measurement of vocabulary is always in one language: a bilingual child’s collective vocabulary from both languages will probably be larger.

"Bilingualism carries a cost, and the cost is rapid access to words," Bialystok said. In other words, children have to work harder to access the right word in the right language, which can slow them down – by milliseconds, but slower nonetheless.

At the same time, bilingual children do better at complex tasks like isolating information presented in confusing ways. In one test researchers frequently use, words like "red" and "green" flash across a screen, but the words actually appear in purple and yellow. Bilingual children are faster at identifying what color the word is written in, a fact researchers attribute to a more developed prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for executive decision-making, like which language to use with certain people).

Bialystok said that for a child to retain a language, a nanny probably would not do the trick. "It’s an interesting solution; it gives young children a consistent exposure," she said. "But how long will the nanny be around, and who else will the child use that language with?"

Music grad conducts Justin Bieber’s tour band

After working with Canadian pop artists such as Fefe Dobson and Shiloh, Canadian musician Dan Kanter (BFA Spec. Hons. ’07) began playing with a teenage boy from Stratford about a year ago, reported the Toronto Sun Aug. 19.

Now, Kanter has become the guitarist and musical conductor in Justin Bieber’s band, something he says has been nothing short of amazing, as the phenom teen tours the world.

"It’s been very exciting and it’s hard to believe it’s only been a year, because we’ve been all over the world many times over," Kanter said Wednesday during a break in Bieber’s My World tour. "As much as I love a band playing in a club, I love a spectacle. And with Justin it was a really great opportunity as musical director to collaborate with the choreographer and Tom Marzullo (artistic director)."

Kanter worked on a master’s degree at York in 2007 and 2008 under Rob Bowman, ethnomusicology professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

Dance grad launches Toronto’s newest dance fest

Sion Irwin-Childs (BA Hons. ’93, MA ’01) could write the book on multi-tasking. With an ambition verging on audacity, he’s set out to fill a hole in Toronto’s summer dance calendar by producing a new festival called Dance 2 Danse, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 19.

Most of the work – from putting up posters to stage-managing the performances – has fallen on Irwin-Childs’ shoulders. "I’m an army of one," he says. "It’s the way I like it."

The hole in question was all that remained after the 2006 collapse of Toronto’s long-running and once thriving fFIDA (Fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists). Launched in 1991, fFIDA was a freewheeling, no-holds-barred showcase of dance creativity: the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Irwin-Childs himself presented at fFIDA in its early years but is not eager to have it compared with his new D2D festival. "I’m not recreating fFIDA," he insists. "I’m not interested in that at all."

British-born Irwin-Childs became interested in dance while taking a bachelor’s degree in English at York University. Dance jived with another of his passions, sculpture. However, after discovering in dance class that he was dyslexic, Irwin-Childs decided to focus on choreography.

After getting a choreography-focused master’s degree at York, Irwin-Childs launched Eros, Thanatos & the Avant-Garde: The Cabaret Series in 2005, a six-times-yearly event at the Rivoli on Queen Street West primarily for emerging dance artists.