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Warm and welcoming

Grenfell students experience cultural exchange at Norris Point retreat

By Melanie Callahan

Grenfell Campus students made the Old Cottage Hospital in Norris Point their home for a weekend recently.

A group of people stand on a rocky shoreline with ocean and snow-covered hills behind them.
International Grenfell students in Norris Point, N.L.
Photo: Submitted

Supported by funding from Memorial University’s Office of Public Engagement Accelerator Fund, 16 international students participated in a cultural exchange in the historic building that has served the residents of the Bonne Bay area since 1938.

Titled, Stay Where You’re At ‘Til I Comes Where You’re To, the program featured a public event with displays including art, jewelry, music, dancing, language and food.

The students enjoyed Newfoundland and Labrador culture through music, food and outdoor activities, including a hike and beach bonfire.

‘Created memories’

These types of events can open up pathways for conversation among diverse groups of people, says Melissa Halford, co-ordinator of the university’s English as a Second Language Program.

“We were clear with our participants that no one-day event could possibly encapsulate any of the cultures that were being shared, but we were excited about the opportunity for exchange — where people could learn more about one another in fun and informal ways,” she said.

A student and a woman sit at a table together.
From left are Juna Yamamoto and Joan Cranston.
Photo: Submitted

She also says that the students were “truly touched” by how much people cared about what they shared and that they were surprised to see how many people turned up for the Saturday event — there was a steady flow of visitors throughout the afternoon — and how many returned on the second day to share a meal together.

“I think, they felt really connected to the Norris Point community, even after a short time spent there,” said Ms. Halford. “One student told us it was one of the happiest moments of her life. I am completely confident that we created memories together that weekend that will last a lifetime.”

Student Juna Yamamoto, who is from Japan, says she was excited to visit Gros Morne and embraced the chance to meet different people from different backgrounds.

“I could feel proud of myself.” — Juna Yamamoto

She particularly enjoyed sharing her calligraphy knowledge.

“My favourite part was the cultural exchange volunteer day,” said Ms. Yamamoto. “I didn’t expect that a lot of people are interested in the calligraphy, because they didn’t have any experience with it in the past. I felt fulfilled because they enjoyed thoroughly my country’s culture. At the same time, I could feel proud of myself that I learned calligraphy and I shared the part of the beautiful country’s culture to people from other countries.”

Watch a video of some of the activities of the weekend below.

Joan Cranston, co-ordinator for the Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital Heritage Corporation, says the not-for-profit organization takes great pride in creating a warm, welcoming environment for all visitors to the area.

She says the board quickly signed on as partners, recognizing the value of the event and how fitting it was to host such a diverse group at the location.

“We know that we play an important role in helping to bring people to the region that might not have otherwise had the chance,” she said. “We also prioritize providing opportunities for people in our community to engage with visitors. We welcomed the chance to show the students first-hand the natural beauty of our landscape, to showcase our unique history and culture and to give them a chance to meet and interact with the people that make this place so special.”

Ms. Cranston also says the Old Cottage Hospital board hopes to host more cultural exchanges in the future.

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