There was barely room to navigate in the Stettler Public Library as the third annual International Holiday Potluck filled the place with delicious food and hungry folk.
The Wednesday, Dec. 7 event was co-hosted by the library and Stettler Adult Learning’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
Now in its third year, the potluck has grown in size, almost doubling from last year’s attendance, according to Judy Becklund, ESL program teacher.
“The goal is to help integrate new Canadians into the community,” she said.
Over the years Becklund has taught ESL, she has had students from a wide, global audience. She has taught people from South Korea, Japan, Hungaria, China, Mexico, Bulgaria and the Philippines, to name just a few.
Becklund said not being able to speak English, or not being able to speak it well, is a very isolating challenge for new immigrants. The communities in which they live are often already a big difference and a tough transition, but not being able to understand others, or being embarrassed by their English language skills, can cause immigrants and new Canadians to remain alone.
“The more they learn, the more they feel part of the community,” she said. “It builds their confidence. It helps them at work, it helps them pursue post-secondary education, they can talk to their doctors and attend parent-teacher interviews.”
Teaching ESL has been an adventure, Becklund said, because unlike her students, she only speaks one language. She doesn’t understand them when they, sometimes in frustration, resort to their native tongues.
“At first, I used to say ‘English Only,’ but I realized that they’re often providing hints to each other to help them out, so I allow them to speak their own language,” Becklund said.
The International Potluck gives Becklund’s students a chance to mingle with people from the community, trying out their English skills as well as showcasing some of the food from their cultures.
The potluck table was full of different foods, including perogies, peanut-sauce covered chicken, meatballs, a Mexican sandwich cake and more.
About 60 people came to the event, forcing organizers to set up more tables and put out more chairs to accommodate everyone.
The ESL programs are inexpensive, and Becklund said she wished more people would take advantage of them.
Joaquin Sanchez, Karem Garcia and their son Adrian came to the potluck.
Sanchez and Garcia are no longer ESL students and have lived in Canada for five years, and originally came from Mexico.
“We took lessons for about five years,” Garcia said.
Sanchez said that even though he spoke some English before he took the classes, the classes really helped him better what he knew.
Next year – as soon as it becomes possible – the pair intend to seek their Canadian citizenship and become official residents of Canada. They are currently permanent residents.
“(The potluck) is a great opportunity to meet new people,” Garcia said.