Heartland Students in the Winnipeg Free Press

Heartland Students in the Winnipeg Free Press

The Winnipeg Free Press picked up our story and interviewed our students about their experiences now living in Canada during this global pandemic.  Thank you Olufemi and Florence for participating! We have this article available in a few different languages as well, please see here:


Foreign students making the best of strange time in a strange place


Florence Schluep’s time abroad isn’t going as expected.

When the 30-year-old from Switzerland landed in Winnipeg at the end of February she was looking forward to studying English, making new friends and taking a trip to the United States this summer. Instead, Schluep and her boyfriend have been holed up in a rented apartment for the last month, isolating against the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

“We left and everything was normal,” she said. “It was unreal; you never would have thought that it could come to Europe or come to Canada.”

Schluep is one of 65 Heartland International English School students who are effectively stuck in Winnipeg while the global pandemic plays out.

Heartland, a private language school on William Avenue, has successfully moved its curriculum online, but founder and president Gary Gervais is concerned about the future of his industry.

“I’m the kind of person (who loves) to know my community.” – Olufemi Oshinowo

“If you wanted to be in a business that was going to be devastated by something like this, we’ve got it,” Gervais said.

“Students getting on planes, needing visas, gathering together in classrooms, it checks all the boxes of things that are pretty instantly destroyed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For Schluep, the learning is going smoothly, but the lack of social contact with her classmates is difficult. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Heartland runs full- and part-time classes and English proficiency tests for as many as 130 students at a time from around the world — in 2018, the bulk of enrollees were from Brazil and China.

During their time in Winnipeg, students can lodge with a home-stay family or arrange their own accommodations. Gervais says all of Heartland’s current students have stable living situations where they can isolate.

While the language teachers have been able to deliver lessons virtually, the tourism side of the program has hit a stumbling block.

“Part of what we’re offering is this cultural and Canadian and Winnipeg experience,” Gervais said. “This is what we’ve lost in the transition.”

The school usually organizes class outings to museums, galleries and movie theatres on Fridays. To fill the gap, Heartland has been hiring local artists to run online workshops, the first of which was a private concert with Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra viola player Marie-Elyse Badeau.

For Schluep, the learning is going smoothly, but the lack of social contact with her classmates is difficult.

“When you’re going to another country and learning a language there, you’re expecting to meet some people, go for a beer maybe on Friday after your classes,” she said. “That’s kind of missing at the moment and that’s very sad.”

When it comes to the pandemic, Schluep is trying to stay positive and keep in touch with family back in Switzerland, where there have been 25,834 cases of COVID-19 and 900 deaths, to date.

Olufemi Oshinowo, with Damisi, arrived in Winnipeg in January. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)</p> Oshinowo, with Damisi, arrived in Winnipeg in January. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

“My dad is over 70, so I’m kind of scared about him but I know he’s doing a pretty good job of staying at home and don’t have contact with other people,” she said.

Olufemi Oshinowo, 49, is a recent graduate of Heartland who came to Winnipeg in January from Nigeria. He is planning an extended stay in the city while his 11-year-old son finishes school here.

Moving to a new country has been a strange experience so far.

“I’m the kind of person (who loves) to know my community,” he said. “But because of this coronavirus you have to be careful, so the only place I actually go to is the mall.”

Oshinowo has been managing his concerns about the virus by staying in constant contact with relatives back in Nigeria where, as of Monday, there had been 323 cases and 10 deaths.

“The numbers stay significantly low, but it’s still something,” he said. “Everywhere is locked down too, people are not allowed to go to work or go anywhere.”

Despite living in isolation and the city’s unpredictable spring weather, Oshinowo says he has had a good first impression of Winnipeg.

“People are loving here,” he said. “I’ve had a good experience with people.”

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.