Asia-Pacific Report: Training a new generation of Asia-competent Canadians – Vancouver Sun

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A few weeks ago, during a panel discussion between Canadian and Japanese officials in Vancouver, Miklos Dietz told the gathering that Canadians, especially those in B.C., need to focus on developing “Asia competencies� at a young age to foster “a new generation of leaders�.

The director of consulting group McKinsey and Company had touched on a key talking point of recent efforts to improve Canadians’ ability to compete for business in Asia — a need to increase the level of knowledge and understanding among the Canadian public, focussing on academic exchanges.

There are many programs at academic institutions and through groups such as the B.C. Council For International Education to help students go abroad, but several countries also offer scholarships to Canadians, in the hope it pays dividends in the future.

Last year, China celebrated the 10th anniversary of a program offering roughly 10 to 15 scholarships for Canadians each year. Although the numbers are small, it represents only a fraction of the total number of Canadian students in China (estimated to be around 3,000 in 2015). Chinese officials said that, in addition to the scholarships, they regularly sponsor contests for Mandarin-language arts such as singing to encourage students’ interest and familiarity with Asia.

BCSCAN, an alumni network for Canadians who have studied in China, began as a conduit to transfer their interest and knowledge to those who want to pursue similar studies.

“We want more students to come. We don’t really care about a specific number or what programs they choose, because the experience they gain in China and Asia — compared to visiting another English-speaking country — will be much more rewarding,� said Yu Changxue of the education department at the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. “It is an immense place that’s worthy of exploration. And ultimately, that will to explore has to come from the students themselves … so we need to help students become more familiar (with China).�

Japan’s MEXT scholarship, created in 1954, also has a significant presence in B.C. A UBC information session in March attracted 35 students — again, not only those interested specifically in government scholarships, but studying in Japan generally.

“It was quite a high turnout, as we had previously been informed that it was end of term, so most students were too busy to attend because of projects and essays,� said Steve Chevalier with Japan’s Vancouver consulate. “It is a really good indication that students are interested in going to Japan to study.�

A local Japanese alumni network is also growing, with regular gatherings acting as a platform for Canadians with similar experiences to stay connected.

Those involved in such exchanges agree it is an uphill battle. Rough estimates indicate only a small fraction of Canadian post-secondary students travel abroad to study, and those who do usually choose English-speaking countries such as Australia and the U.S., as well as European nations.

Colin Doerr, the B.C. Council For International Education’s director of communications (and himself a former student in China),said alumni networks such as BCSCAN help encourage B.C. students to travel abroad.

“Students, when they first come back, it can be quite challenging because you’ve built up a network while studying (in Asia),and you lose that when you come back,� Doerr said. “This is an area we can help.�

Asia-Pacific Report: Training a new generation of Asia-competent Canadians – Vancouver Sun}