NMC Cultural Exchange and Support Initiative
NMC-CESI is a student-led educational and humanitarian initiative created by students and faculty at the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. Since April 2016, this initiative has served as a springboard for Syrian newcomer youth who need help with language acquisition, are interested in continuing their studies, and are looking for support in their settlement process.
NMC-CESI weekly workshops are unique in their “exchange” principle: UofT students learn Arabic from Syrian newcomers, who learn English from UofT students through worksheets on topics related to Canadian society. Our group of volunteers—over 200 members!—also assist with a range of activities and needs across Toronto, helping sponsors and newcomers to communicate and perform necessary tasks for adjustment to life in Canada.
The backbone of NMC-CESI is our Language & Cultural Exchange Workshop. This weekly program uses NMC’s unique linguistic & cultural resources to help newcomer youth improve their English, connect to Canadian society, and familiarize themselves with Canadian classroom culture—all while helping Canadian students improve their Arabic skills!
Every Saturday, a group of newcomers meet up with Arabic-speaking volunteers to improve their English skills, while also exploring strategies to achieve personal goals for resettlement and adjustment to life in Canada. Similarly, English speakers pair up with native Arabic speakers to improve their command of the Arabic language and learn more about Middle Eastern culture. Each week we have 40-50 participants, newcomers, and students attending our workshops, matched 1-1.
We prepare our own worksheets to guide and facilitate the workshop based on a selection of relevant and useful themes. We see this as an opportunity to engage in cultural, historical, and political topics that provide a basis for conservation & exchange between newcomers and our volunteers. Some examples of topics tackled so far include Canadian history, indigenous history, Canadian sports, geography, and many more!