Over the years, Joan Haack has come across stories that have brought tears to her eyes.
As the English Language Services for Adults co-ordinator for the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society, she is responsible for assessing the language skills of inquiring immigrants.
But until recently, she was unable to help those who had more advanced needs.
"I find the higher educated the person, the harder they are on themselves. They are expecting perfection," Haack said.
She recalled the frustration of one client from Chile whose first language was Spanish and who had completed his masters degree in French at McGill University, but couldn't find a way to fit into his English workplace here in Prince George.
"He feels he can't come out of himself," she said.
This September, IMSS is offering free level 6 and 7 advanced English classes for new immigrants, permanent residents, naturalized Canadian citizen and live-in caregivers.
Until now, only levels 1 through 5 were available in Prince George and those with higher-level English skills - such as those who may have completed English-language education in their native country but needed help in writing skills or pronunciation - did not have a place to learn.
The advanced courses are part of a provincial pilot project funded by the Immigrant Integration and Multiculturalism branch of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. They will have a focus on improving soft skills - skills that help bridge socio-cultural gaps in the community and workplace.
"In the lunchroom, people are joking around and [new immigrants] feel they've lost their sense of humour," Haack explained. While picking up cultural idioms and jokes will take time, she said the classes will at least give them some tool to address certain situations.
In the classes, students will be taken out of their comfort zones, but in a safe space that will encourage them to engage with curriculum that includes personal and career development.
"They're coming into a situation, being in a classroom with other people in the same situation," Haack said.
The classes are answering the call to fill a serious need on the north as the trend moves to the arrival of immigrants with higher skills. The program was initiated in the Lower Mainland last year.
"Already, I think we may have a full class," Haack said. The 18-person sessions take place from Sept. 10 until the end of June and feature 300 hours of instruction.
"We're excited," she said. "I'm really glad the ministry recognized that need."
For more information and class schedules, contact IMSS online at www.imss.ca or call 250-562-2900.