Students from Meiji University learn more than English at York

Falling and getting stuck in mud or being overturned in a canoe while fully clothed were not what Aya Takano of Japan thought she would encounter when she went on a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with the York University English Language Institute (YUELI) recently. But that didn’t put a damper on her enthusiasm or her enjoyment of the weekend outing.

“Some students think my experience is bitter. I think it’s good and interesting…. Thanks to this experience, my inner self became stronger,” says Takano, a third-year English and American literature major in Japan. Even though her shoes were filled with mud and she needed help to get out, she was not perturbed.

Right: A group of students from Meiji University in Japan canoe in Algonquin Provincial Park. Aya Takano is in the centre wearing a blue life-jacket.

Takano is just one of 46 students from Japan’s Meiji University here to learn English. Their group is the 25th from Meiji University in as many years. Students from Meiji University were the first ever to form a partnership with YUELI. In addition, there are currently 100 students, both male and female, from Saudi Arabia at York, plus another 500 some students from all over the world learning English this month at YUELI.

The number of students coming to York from Saudi Arabia during the summer has been building over the last two or three years, says Calum MacKechnie, director of YUELI and president of Languages Canada/Langues Canada. “It’s an interesting learning experience for all of us.” About 33 per cent come from Saudi Arabia and another 33 per cent from China. The rest come from countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Russia and Turkey.

Right: Naoto Matsuki is about to eat a roasted marshmallow as students gather around a campfire in Algonquin Park

Scott Boyd, who has headed up the Japanese language program at YUELI for over a decade, says, “The students are amazing, the staff at YUELI incredible and it just makes the entire month of August a very enjoyable experience.” Boyd teaches at a middle school in Belleville during the year, but loves spending every August teaching English. He wouldn’t miss it. The students make teaching a joy.

“We have a very strong program and it’s becoming a very well-known program around the world,” says MacKechnie. “We’ve been growing steadily over the last six years by at least 10 per cent a year. That’s because we have a good reputation for rigour. They know they will learn here. It’s not a vacation.”

That’s good news for second-year Meiji University economics student Naoto Matsuki. His parents are expecting him to study hard given the money they spent getting him here. “I don’t want to waste my time,” he says. This is his first time abroad and he’s making the most of it. It was Matsuki who overturned Takano’s canoe, but through some good-natured bantering they decided his restitution would be to buy her a drink or two.

Left: Meiji University students Tomomi Hibino (left) and Aya Takano

Both of them said the Algonquin trip was one of the highlights of their time at YUELI. MacKechnie agrees. “It’s a central part of the program. We do that every year.” There’s no way he could even consider cutting it. The students have come to expect it.

“At night the stars in the sky are beautiful [in Algonquin]. We are moved, amazing,” says Matsuki. Takano adds that she saw many shooting stars. Both noticed the amount of trees and nature even in the city of Toronto, which is not the case in Tokyo. They also believe the crime rate is lower here and they love the long days of sun. In Tokyo, the sun sets around 7pm in the summer and 5 or 6pm in the winter, says Takano. “In Canada the day is long so we can enjoy anything longer.”

Matsuki could have chosen to learn English in the United States or the United Kingdom, but chose York based on what friends who came last year said, and he’s happy he did. He wants to become a CEO of a large company and for that he will need English. Takano hopes to use her English skills in the workplace, but she also hopes to use it to travel extensively.

Takano and Matsuki will be at York until the end of August before heading back home to Japan.