How international students at UPEI are sharing language and culture

International students at UPEI are connecting with each other across cultures — and across languages.

Student staff from the international relations office matched 28 students to share 11 languages

International students at UPEI are getting to know one another by teaching each other languages. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

International students at UPEI are connecting with each other across cultures — and across languages.

Students who work in the international relations office have started a language exchange program, which matches up students who teach each other their own languages.

"We are not only learners but we are teachers," said Jing Huang, one of the student organizers.

International student advisor Richelle Greathouse heard about a similar program at UBC, and she thought it would be a good fit at UPEI. She enlisted the help of student staff, who are now organizing the group.

Lots of interest

When Greathouse shared the idea with students a few months ago, more than 80 people signed up for the program at the beginning of the semester.

"When I saw the number of participants, I was shocked," said Jiahui Huang, one of the student organizers.

Jiahui Huang, one of the student organizers, matched up 28 pairs of students to teach each other languages. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Based on what languages people speak — and what they wanted to learn — Huang was able to match up 28 pairs of students. The matches include 11 different languages, including Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

The student organizers host a weekly session where some pairs meet for an hour. Others organize to meet on their own time.

Cultural exchange

Student organizer Jing Huang is an international student from China. She's paired with a Japanese student. She says in the last month and a half, she's started to learn some fundamentals.

"The first day we set our goals like we want to learn some basic greeting words, like we want to learn some useful words, when we travelling, something like that," she said.

But she said the program is about more than just learning a few words in a foreign language. She said the program "also helps to promote the cultural development and cultural understanding."

That's something participants JongHyun Yeom and Yuki Seguro say they have benefited from.

JongHyun Yeom, right, says he has learned a lot about Japanese culture from Yuki Seguro. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Yeom, who is from South Korea, said he has long had an interest in Japan, and has enjoyed learning more about the country from Seguro.

"I learned many things like food, national holidays ... different family names in Japan. So for me it was kind of an educational experience to be with her," said Yeom.

Making new friends

Jing Huang said the program is also intended to give international students leadership experience, and get to know more people.

"It is very normal phenomenon for most international students … to stay with the people from the same country," she said.

Jing Huang is one of the student organizers for the UPEI language exchange. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Yeom, who is at UPEI on exchange, said he had a hard time at first getting to know people at the university.

"Being an exchange student here is tough, because you don't know anyone in Canada when you're from other countries. And this program … offered me to be a friend with other students from other countries."

'Improves my English as well'

Most of the students in the program are international students or exchange students. But the organizers say they would like to see domestic students get involved as well.

While most participants are working to improve their English, Jing Huang said she doesn't think learning another languages has hindered that for her.

Organizers say the language exchange program offers a way for people to make new friends. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"When we are doing the language exchange, it helps me like more able to speak English. Because when we teaching each others, we use English," she said.

For Yuki Seguro from Japan, the program is simply a chance for her to learn about something she's interested in.

"Just studying English all the time is kind of like stressful for me. So it's good, like relaxing time, to study Korean."


Sarah MacMillan is a journalist with CBC Toronto. She previously reported in Sudbury, Ont. and Prince Edward Island. You can contact her at