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Students graduate, then head home

High school graduates across School District 43 are closing their binders for the last time, cleaning out lockers and, in some cases, heading off to far-flung places. But some will travel farther than others.

High school graduates across School District 43 are closing their binders for the last time, cleaning out lockers and, in some cases, heading off to far-flung places.

But some will travel farther than others.

International students from Asia, Europe, South America and other places will likely be returning home before continuing on with post-secondary education, and many will be sad to leave.

For these students - some of whom struggled with English at first - the hardest part of high school was making friends. Now, leaving these friends behind will be the hardest part of graduating, some of these students say.

"I'll be so sad when I go back," said Tomoe Nakamura, 18, who will return to her family in Tokyo in July and go to university in Japan in the fall.

"I can send messages," she says, "but I can't actually see them."

Facebook and email are good, Nakamura said, but they are not as good as being with her friends. She loves pizza and will miss that, too. "It's not as good in Japan," she says.

Fiona Dong, 18, who's heading back home to Shanghai, will also miss her friends when she leaves June 24 and is also nervous about going to university in Ottawa in the fall. "It will be a new start," she says, but notes, "It was always the goal."

It wasn't easy for Dong to convince her parents to allow her to study abroad. She's an only child, the result of China's one-child policy, and her mom and dad were worried. But they found her a place to stay with her mother's university friend and Dong didn't let them down. She studied hard, even re-taking Physics 12 at night school to improve her grades, and will be going to university on scholarship.

Both Dong and Nakamura managed to complete Grade 11 and 12 in two years, which is a challenge when English isn't your first language.

Nakamura's mom was behind her decision to complete her schooling in Canada but it was a stretch financially and emotionally for the Japanese widow. And the culture shock Nakamura faced at first gave her some doubts.

"I was like, how can I make some friends? I learned it's important to start a conversation," she said. "I talked to random students and started to make friends here. Now, I'm kind of sad to graduate."

Meanwhile, Dong took ESL classes to improve her English and even became a peer tutor in Math.

But learning English and getting good marks wasn't all they achieved. The two say they came to understand Canadian culture and to appreciate the differences between people here and those at home.

For example, Canadians are more multicultural and relaxed, Nakamura said; they don't judge people by how they look and the family she lived with was always cracking jokes. "They were very entertaining," she said.

Dong was struck more by the differences in food. "Sandwiches, French fries, pizza, hot wings," she listed off as some of her favourite North American dishes.

Another high point for the two Pinetree graduates was the dinner and dance May 27 at the Westin Bayshore hotel. The girls wore prom dresses and danced until midnight, taking pictures of themselves and all their friends.

"I had the best time ever," Nakamura said. "It's the first time I ever went to a party like that."

With that milestone behind them, there has been a blur of activity until a plane carries them home.

THE NUMBERS: SD43

Total enrolment (including international and Coquitlam Open Learning students): 34,109

SCHOOL 2011 GRADS*

Centennial 383

CABE 108

Dr. Charles Best 300

Gleneagle 354

Heritage Woods 305

Pinetree 374

Port Moody 351

Riverside 334

Terry Fox 399

Int'l. Ed. 146

Total 3,054

(*exact numbers won't be known until provincial exams are graded)

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