International alumnus returns for visit

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Bob Hall

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International Alumnus Charles Mak (middle) reconnected with some of his former teachers and advisors.

When Charles Mak first arrived to Selkirk College from Hong Kong in late-1986, international education was a virtually unknown post-secondary entity in the West Kootenay. Much has changed over the last 33 years.

Now working for a successful Shanghai-based office furniture company, Mak spends half his year traveling to all parts of the world where his time spent getting an English language education in British Columbia comes in handy. On his way to Chicago from Vancouver in early-June, Mak touched down in Castlegar for the first time since he left in 1989.

“As soon as I arrived to the airport, there was lots of good memories,” says Mak, who was 18 years old the first time he stepped foot in Castlegar. “It made me think of all the teachers and homestay friends that I made while I studied at Selkirk College.”

With excitement building for Expo ’86 in the mid-1980s, the British Columbia government started a push towards international education with a focus on Asia. The direction in post-secondary was embraced by Selkirk College’s former President Dr. Leo Perra and former Board Chair Dr. Jack Colbert who traveled to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore to build relationships.

The first group of seven students from Hong Kong arrived in July 1986. Landing in late-December 1986, Mak was a member of the second international education cohort to study at Selkirk College. His group included a total of nine students from Hong Kong and Macau that focused on studying English as a Second Language and in the School of University Arts & Sciences.

By the time Mak left in 1989, Selkirk International had started to blossom with students arriving from all parts of the world. Today, there are more than 750 international students from 21 countries who study in a wide variety of Selkirk College programs on all campuses and online.

The timing of Mak’s return to Castlegar was at the prompting of an old friend. Lola Sherstobitoff started her 23 year career at Selkirk College as an on call switchboard operator in 1974. By the mid-1980s, she was part of the Selkirk International team that welcomed students from around the globe and helped keep them on track while studying in their new community.

At her home just east of Castlegar, Sherstobitoff has photo albums packed with memories from her days with Selkirk International. Over the years, she has been invited to weddings, traveled to see former students and continues to keep in touch with a few of her most cherished bonds. Mak is one of the stand-out alumni and she set up the mid-June visit.

“It’s emotional for me,” says Sherstobitoff. “Charles became very close, he would stop by and visit my office all the time. We would just sit and talk. I learned so much, it was the first time I had any contact with people from overseas. When they all first came, we knew nothing.”

Though he only spent a couple of days in Castlegar, Sherstobitoff is confident he will be back again. Until Mak or another former student returns, she will hold onto the memories of a wonderful career in international education. “It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, it was the best job,” says Sherstobitoff. “I traveled around the world just by coming to work.”

Learn more about Selkirk International at www.selkirk.ca/international