Helping fellow newcomers build community in Canada

Originally posted: March 23, 2021

Earlier this year, Lei (Leonardo) Zhang, received the Manitoba Council for International Education’s International Student of the Year (Language Program) award for 2020.

Lei, who is originally from Beijing, China, began his MITT journey at the English Language Institute (ELI) before his successful application to the Electrical Applications certificate program, which he is currently completing. He was nominated by the English Language Institute for his commitment to participating in student life at the ELI and MITT and helping his fellow students inside and outside of the classroom. 

Prior to COVID-19, he volunteered to assist with student orientation to help with translation for lower-level English students. After the pandemic caused classes to move online, he volunteered to help with textbook distribution to ELI students (when this was only possibly by setting up a table in the parking lot—sun or snow!) and spent three days volunteering during a make-up photo session held for spring graduates who did not get an in-person convocation ceremony.  

In addition to these efforts, Leonardo also established the ELI Bike Club, through which he organized bike rides for fellow students throughout the city in an effort to provide a socially-distanced way for peers to meet.  He also established the ELI Winter Club to help ELI students plan activities to do outside in the winter.

Here, in his own words, is Lei’s reaction to receiving the award, as well as his perspective on the importance of volunteerism.

How did it feel to receive the award?

When I received Michelle’s award notification email, I was shocked and even asked my friends to confirm this news. A few days later, I realized I DID receive the award after my tutor showed me the certificate and said, “you deserve it!”—this [is] ELI’s positive affirmation for my past 30 weeks of school study and volunteer activities.

How did the ELI help prepare you for college?

I officially started learning English in 2017 and began to learn from zero, like a kid in kindergarten. In January 2020, I entered ELI and started to learn English from Level 2. After 30 weeks of study, I eventually graduated in September of the same year. In this process, I learned grammar, pronunciation, writing and speech skills from teachers at all levels. Also, I tried to use every moment in my classes to talk to the native speaker. Beginning from “no idea” how to pronounce a word and slightly improve to make some simple phrase or sentence with some basic grammar, gradually I can bargain with the supermarket staff for more discount. Every single step makes me better prepared and steps towards MITT successfully.

Why is volunteering important to you?

Let’s talk about volunteering, this is what I’ve been doing all my life, and it’s my lifelong ambition: to be a “long-term” volunteer, to “serve” [those in] need. After coming to ELI, I find many newcomers like me having questions about learning methods, school rules and local living habits. With the assistance of Michelle and Melanie, I answered some questions for the new students. After the COVID-19 epidemic outbreak, Sara and I founded the LEI Bike Club, which encourages bike-riding once a week to exercise, maintain social distance, and experience nature tours. We recommend some winter outdoor sports, such as skating, skiing, hiking, etc. Being a volunteer improves my social life as well as practising my language. Besides, I could well serve my dear classmates who can benefit me a lot.

How is your electrical applications program going?

After I graduated from ELI, I submitted the primary course of Electrical Application. This major professional course is what I have been longing for for a long time. After two weeks of learning the basics, I joined the entire professional system. My language skills inability is still an obstacle for me and a source of motivation as well. I know well there is nothing impossible, but it all depends on how much effort I take. Also, there are an amiable teacher, Brianne, and a handsome teacher, Lee, in this major. They are knowledgeable and very friendly enough to encourage me to study hard.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

After graduation and everything is settled down, I plan to seek a job here. Enjoying my pleasure moment in this city, I still insist on being a volunteer [to make] contributions and assist local people in need.

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