Rick Eglinton/torstar news service


Chinese students take part in a 12-week summer program at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

As anyone who has been through it will attest, the first year of university can be filled with challenges inside the classroom and out.

Now, imagine you’re leaving your family to come halfway around the world and study in a foreign tongue while living in a country you know very little about.

Into that daunting scenario comes a unique 12-week summer program at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC). Designed to smooth the transition for students from Mainland China who are starting four-year degrees in September, it offers those just out of high school a menu of intense language training with a large side order of Canadian culture. All the while they live in residence and cook for themselves, typically for the first time in their lives.

Think of it as Canada 101. A trip to Niagara Falls, a campfire complete with songs and s’mores, and a visit to the McMichael Art Gallery are on the agenda.

Along the way, they experience culture shock in many forms.

“Our life is very busy here,” said Lina Zhao, 19, of Shanghai, who will pursue a degree in management studies. Bu, she notes the summer program, which recently wrapped up with a graduation ceremony, has made her feel more comfortable about launching her university career. “I think I’m ready.”

Zhao and the more than 100 other upper-middle class students in her class hail from elite high schools in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenzen, Chongqing and Tianjin.

They would typically secure a spot in some of China’s top universities. But through the Green Path program, which translates from Chinese as “the way to success,” they launch their university careers in Canada. After writing a preliminary exam and being interviewed by UTSC staff visiting China, those accepted complete a 12-week course before beginning degree studies at the campus, with business, computer science and math the most popular disciplines.

Armed with a degree from Canada’s largest university, fluency in English and experience living in North America, these Chinese nationals are likely to be highly sought after as employees.

“When they go back, and I think most of them will, they will have fantastic job offers,” said Don MacMillan, director of student recruitment and the registrar at UTSC. “An opportunity to study abroad is still very valuable in China.”

Now in its third year, the program, believed to be the only one of its kind in North America for students from Mainland China, has grown from 15 students in 2005 to 76 last year and 112 this year. The plan is to limit it to 125, so individual classes can be kept small. Fees are set at $9,800 for the 12-week course.