There are few more effective and joyful ways of building kinship and understanding than breaking bread with strangers in a warm, supportive atmosphere.

That was the thinking behind Glenrosa Farm Restaurant owner Jane Hammond’s Community Table Dinner initiative to bring together Pearson College UWC students and members of the local community for occasional dinners at the family-owned and operated restaurant in Metchosin, a few minutes’ drive from campus.

In business since July 2015, Glenrosa is a homey and inviting farm-to-table restaurant that, “takes advantage of the bounty of our rural location.” Situated in a historic, converted farmhouse at the head of Pedder Bay, the restaurant is well-known to faculty and staff at the College and is visited by a handful of students every year.

Jane’s initiative was to generate a slightly “more formal, informal” way of creating and nurturing community by inviting about 15 students and 25 local community members together for a family-style dinner. Every table is served the same bounty and everyone at that table is served from the same dishes.

“I was really hoping to strengthen the links between the communities,” added Hammond. She has worked closely with Pearson students over the years through her involvement with Metchosin House and a previous “Dinner Escape” initiative in which students were invited into local homes to share a meal and a few hours with locals.

“The Community Table is organized to facilitate conversation — 25 community members, 15 students:  three students and five community members at each table, five tables in total,” said Admissions Officer and Host Family Coordinator Fatma Dogus. “After the main course, students switched tables to get to know and chat with other people.”

Students are not asked to cover the cost of their meals – participating community members each agree to pay little extra to help cover these costs as a community-building gesture.

Working with Dogus, together with Community Engagement Officer Julia Norman and Alumni Relations Director Benoît Charlebois, Hammond came up with the idea to build bridges between Pearson’s international student body and residents of the region.

“Jane is a real supporter of Pearson – she has been a long-time friend of the College – it’s a small community and she knows many families in Metchosin,” said Dogus. “She wants to let more people know about what Pearson College does – especially in this area — so she wants to reach out to not only Metchosin but all (Greater) Victoria-area communities.”

“The students were purposefully scattered among the guests, who were also purposefully seated so as not to have people together who know each other too well,” added Norman. “We had a wonderful, family-style meal, and before dessert students switched tables to engage in conversation with new people.”

To help break the ice and encourage teenagers who might not always be experienced in chatting with adults they don’t know well, prior to the most recent of two dinners held this term, Norman led the students through a “prep workshop” to equip them with tips and techniques to help lubricate social and meaningful conversations.

“I also wanted to help the students look at this as an ambassadorial opportunity – a way to improve understanding of the College and to learn about the impact it has on Metchosin, and vice-versa,” said Norman. “From what I heard from the students, they enjoyed the food, learned some interesting things from the guests, and had fun.”

Students generally agreed and demonstrated a solid understanding of the wider value of conversation.

“I learnt about the importance of engaging with our surrounding community, it is important to not get sucked into the bubble of Pearson and learn from others,” said Izzie from New Zealand. “It was really cool to hear from the experiences of others and open up opportunities for further engagement with these amazing people!”

Hannah from Italy added, “The dinner gave me the chance to meet some of the lovely people who live in the area around the College. I really appreciated this, as I sometimes have the feeling that I live in a bit of a bubble and do not really interact with the local community. During the dinner, I had nice chats and learnt about my conversation partners’ lives, about what interests them, and what issues concern them. For instance, I had a long conversation about Canadian politics and Canadian culture which really allowed me to connect more to the country I am staying in for the next two years.

“Us students should really take every opportunity possible to interact with the local community, share our cultures and views on the world, and learn about theirs.”

Hammond says they are hoping to arrange more Community Table Dinners involving different students during the upcoming second term.