Since 16-year-old Marlene Vega arrived in Minnedosa two months ago, she has experienced snow for the first time, brushed up on her English skills and embraced Canadian culture.
Vega, from Guadalajara, Mexico, is one of 25 international students currently attending school in southern Manitoba through an organization called Study Manitoba School Divisions.
"I like it. I’m very happy," Vega said. "It’s very cold, but I like the snow … I think it’s very fun. I hope to ski and snowmobile."
Vega, a Grade 11 student, arrived in Minnedosa in September and will study there until June.
One of the major differences Vega has experienced is moving from a city of 1.5 million people to a town roughly 2,500.
"I think it’s very small, but the people are nice," she said.
Kim Burgess is Vega’s host mother. It’s the fourth time the Burgess family has hosted an international student.
"I wanted to make some international connections, which I thought would be a good experience for our (five) kids," Burgess said. "We wanted to give them the experience of connecting with kids the same age from different cultures from around the world."
The first two students were Grade 7 boys from Colombia, who were both here for a month. The third student hosted by the Burgess family was a Grade 12 student from Brazil, who was here for five months.
Burgess, a teacher at Tanner’s Crossing School in Minnedosa, said the experience is a win-win situation for both the international students and the locals.
"Being an educator, I would say that I think it’s education at its finest," she said. "I think it really helps to develop tolerance and understanding and acceptance."
Study Manitoba began in 2008, a consortium of five area school divisions — Beautiful Plains, Fort la Bosse, Rolling River, Southwest Horizon and Turtle Mountain.
Some rural school divisions are facing a declining enrolment and being able to fill some seats with international students is a big plus. An international student studying in Manitoba typically pays a yearly tuition of $10,000.
Ian Berith Scott, director of international education with Study Manitoba, said they are on track to welcome a total of 100 international students this school year, which is roughly the same as 2011-12.
Students between the ages of 10 and 17 from a wide array of countries are represented in southwestern Manitoba, including China, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.
"The students are looking for an English academic experience," Scott said. "They probably have had a fascination with English culture which has driven them and their families to seek out an opportunity for them to study and travel ... Our schools are great, our schools and communities are safe. An environment of opportunity is how I like to describe it."
Over the next few years, more Brazilian students will be coming to southwestern Manitoba to study. The Brazilian government is sending hundreds of students abroad in preparation for the Summer Olympics, which will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
"The intention there is to improve their English language, and help these communities in Brazil prepare and have young people that have experience with English speakers before the world comes to visit them," Scott said.
Bringing international students into Manitoba schools helps expose local children to different cultures, ideas and languages.
"We live in more of a global context more and more these days, so it’s important that our school and our curriculum and the environment also reflect that to best prepare our kids for that type of world," he said.