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Satellite Kids


Summa (Hung) SriprachyaAnunt’s parents want the best for him. They want him to be happy, healthy and to have the best things in life. Hung’s parents try to give him a head start in life, whether it’s offering personal advice or educating him for his future career. How far are parents willing to go in order to give their children an advantage over the rest?

With the boom in the Asian economy, more parents from China, Korea, Japan and Thailand are willing and able to send their children to study abroad. Over the past 10 years, the number of international students coming to Vancouver to study has grown fivefold.

Vancouver’s Appeal

These kids have been labelled Satellite Kids, a term coined by Professor Johanna L.Waters to describe foreign students sent to study in Vancouver. While the kids take advantage of the educational opportunities, both parents continue with careers at home in the east.

According to Dr. Laurie Anderson from the Vancouver School Board’s International Education Program, international students come from 20 different countries around the world and about 65 percent come from Asia. Vancouver has an appeal to Asian families like Hung’s because they feel it’s safe and less distracting than other cities.

Hung, now in his final year of high school, has been away from his home in Bangkok since he was 15 years old, studying at Point Grey High School in Kerrisdale. His parents live in Bangkok and his two siblings study abroad.

Overall, it has been a positive experience for him, but he does mention a disconnection with his parents. “They probably still think I am not really mature, or I’m like still a kid and my thinking is still not developed.” By sending him to study abroad at a young age, they’ve asked him to grow up quickly on his own. Yet emotionally and mentally, they treat him as a child.This cultural shift in assimilation is often unobserved by the parents of Satellite Kids.

Hung with his Vancouver classmates. Left to right: Punit Shah, Pom Dindenome, Charlie Payne, Nicholas Wells, Keith Ong and Hung.

Living The Canadian Dream

In most Asian cultures, the American Dream is education. It is strongly believed that graduating from a good university will result in a stable career and great financial success. This type of thinking stems from Confucianism that emphasizes the importance of education for moral development, which many Asian cultures and governments embrace.

The Satellite Kids coming to Vancouver are all assigned counselors to look after them in the schools they attend.The international students also have access to the Vancouver School Board (VSB) staff counselors, as well as multicultural home school workers for any kind of support they may need coping with the challenges of studying abroad.

Aside from the obvious physical separation of the family unit, Dr.Anderson mentions the biggest problems for many students have been homesickness and cultural adjustments, like food and the western classroom environment. Some students, depending on their home country, adapt quickly.

Opening Up To A New Way Of Thinking

Vancouver schools encourage independent and critical thinking and in-class participation. Dr. Anderson mentions how hard it is for some of the international students to open up to the concept of being asked their opinion in class, rather than simply being told what to think and learn in school. Giving the kids this type of respect, and responsibility of maturity and opinion, generally takes some time to get used to, but in the end the students end up embracing this new freedom.

Hung recommends his experience to other international students thinking of studying in Canada,“It’s not too much about getting a better education, but you really learn how to live independently and manage your free time, and it gets you to be a good thinker. If I was back in Thailand, I would still be pampered.”

Higher Cost For Higher Learning

The VSB receives several hundred foreign applicants per year and rejects half of them because they don’t meet their standards. Dr.Anderson states that international student applicants need to be above average academically in their own country, with no significant learning or behavioural problems. Beyond that, the school board looks at report cards for the current and past two years. The applicants must also be able to afford the $12,000 tuition fee, mandatory medical insurance and other fees that minimally total $24,000 per year.

International students have become good business for Vancouver’s economy.The VSB’s budget is $450 million a year. International students bring in $12 million, about three percent. “We don’t really rely on it, but it helps. All the money goes into hiring teachers,”says Dr. Anderson.

Learning From International Students

International students also help educate Canadian children by bringing in another culture and experiences to their own backyards. International students enrich the school’s cultural makeup and help local kids become global citizens by seeing how these students study and live. By welcoming international students, they also help showcase Vancouver to the rest of the world through word of mouth, proudly sharing the quality of life and the quality of the schools here.

Being Canadian is being multicultural; it’s about having experiences from around the world right here at home. It’s about tolerance and understanding and being open to the global community. In order for us to compete with the world and keep up with the globalization of the economy, we need to understand it and learn about it, starting with the youth.

As we open our doors to international students for a better life, they open doors to theirs by enriching our world with different ways of thinking and understanding, just by
living next door.

2009 Pacific Rim Cover. "Cosmetic Acupuncture" Cover story. Image of woman's face.

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