Amran Naser Alzaidi has photos of thermometers sitting at 54 degrees Celsius, taken in his hometown of Abu Dhabi. So when he learned earlier this year the he had the chance to study English in Canada, he packed his winter coat.
“We thought there would be snow,” he said, sharing a laugh with his friends Ahmed Mohammed Almarzooqi and A.J. Mohammed. “When we came here we weren’t disappointed, but it was summer.”
Alzadi, 17, is one of 35 students from the United Arab Emirates who will spend four weeks studying English in Vancouver, thanks to a gift from Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Tamwood Language Centres, a for-profit English language college based in Vancouver, won a bid from the royal family of Abu Dhabi to host the boys, all of whom grew up speaking Arabic. The annual program aims to expose top emirati students — all of them selected from public schools — to English language and western cultures. So far, the students have taken to more than just Vancouver’s mild climate.
“It’s like an easy town,” said Mohammed, 15. “It’s not very complicated.”
The student’s days are split between classroom time and cultural events — including university tours, museum trips and excursions into the city. All of the students are billeted with a homestay family. All travel and education expenses are covered by the royal family of Abu Dhabi — the largest emirate in the UAE and the capital city.
The students in the Vancouver program are boys, as emirati high schools are gender-segregated. A program for girls is running in Halifax. The students in Vancouver are accompanied by several employees from the Abu Dhabi Education Council, the state departments in charge of schools.
The program is a unique exchange, said Tamwood CEO Matt Collingwood. Despite Vancouver’s large international population, “it’s not every day you meet some one from Abu Dhabi walking down the street,” he said.
At home, Mohammed is one of five children. Both his parents work for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, a state-owned firm that is among the world’s largest oil exporters. Beyond the weather, he said, he has been struck by the diversity of people living across Vancouver.
“In the UAE, we have many cultures, but they’re all in one place. They’re all in Dubai,” he said. “If you want to see specific cultures, you go to specific neighbourhoods. If you want to see all people, you can’t see them. You can see emiratis and Indians and that’s it.”
Other students have noticed more day-to-day issues. “Everyday, I go to the wrong bus, or the wrong train. But I got home last time,” said Almarzooqi with a laugh.
At the end of the program, the students will return to the UAE for a brief break before their studies resume.
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