As a classroom example, two years ago Mr. Yang realized that Laurier’s
human rights and diversity program was reaching out to a local immigration centre to connect the 50 to 60 students with recent immigrants for a
community service experience. He wondered if there might be an opportunity for the class to connect instead with international ESL students, relieving the immigration centre from having to find immigrant volunteers
while also providing international students with an opportunity to build
new domestic relationships. The new arrangement helps the domestic
students see the value of the international students’ experience and the
international students to feel like they are educating their domestic counterparts, and so far the approach is working well. The course’s structured
briefings, debriefings and reflections help to facilitate an experience that
is more guided and less happenstance.
“This is a very good example where students really learned from each
other. International students, most importantly, felt appreciated because
the Canadian students were actually interested in learning about their
experiences,” explains Mr. Yang. He adds that this type of approach evens
the playing field. “Rather than have domestic students think about theirs
as a goodwill helping role, it shows them there’s something to be gained.”
Such activities also help disrupt the tendency of some international students to only associate with members of their own cultural
group, something that Mr. Pang at Laurier says is an easy pattern for his
fellow Chinese students to fall into. “Because we have such a huge population here, we tend to stick together, which kind of forms a unique
social bubble.” It’s also a matter of convenience. “By making friends
with a Chinese student, I will gain lots of useful information efficiently within a short period of time, versus if I try to socialize with a
Canadian, it’s very time-consuming and stressful.” This idea of “making
a Canadian friend” is a common measure of success for those who study
international student integration; even after several years, many international students have not.
While Mr. Pang’s courage in pursuing domestic connections is commendable, he says it wasn’t easy. “Domestic students are very welcoming
but they won’t initiate the first step in getting to know international students. And international students, especially with Asian origins, including
myself, are quite shy,” he says. “So, neither side is willing to break that
cycle.” He adds that cultural differences are also hard to bridge; for example, he’d never visited a pub or a club before he arrived.
And then there is the language barrier. “No one really holds interest
in talking to you if you can’t even talk properly, so it was quite a challeng-
ing experience at the beginning,” he says. But Mr. Pang persisted, with
campus, from semi-formals to international movie nights. As well, a
project called the Global Kitchen provides a space for collaborative
food-centred cultural celebrations from Rosh Hashanah to Ramadan.
At York, the international centre has started holding a drop-in Global
Café twice a week for both domestic students going abroad and international students looking to meet new friends over coffee and cookies. At
Memorial, Mr. Hassan Nejad credits the internationalization office’s weekly coffee club with helping him make friends. “All the international students are welcome and it’s a great place to meet new people. It’s an open,
safe place where all the students can gather together,” he says. He also
got involved with other organizations within the university, including his
home country’s international society and the university’s career centre.
while such events have traditionally been for the benefit of international students, the goal now is loftier: the intentional integration of
all students, foreign and domestic. This is partly in response to the fact
that most Canadians students are not venturing into the wider world.
According to the most recent statistics gathered by Universities Canada,
just 3. 1 percent of full-time undergraduate students (about 25,000) had
an international experience in 2014.
This has prompted many Canadian universities to look for ways to pursue internationalization at home, which some see as a core competency
in an increasingly globalized world. International students on campus
“come with a diverse range of perspectives and they can give domestic
Canadian students exposure to other cultures,” says Dr. Lambert-Drache.
In practical terms, this has translated into a peer program at York that
partners domestic students with international students for regular events
like pizza parties. To avoid the perception of an unequal relationship that
results when such events are positioned as a mentorship, these programs
now focus on the benefits to domestic students.
Memorial’s peer mentor program takes this a step further by measuring the program’s success through the domestic students’ performance on
the Intercultural Development Inventory, an online questionnaire that as-sesses shifts in cultural perspective. “We measure the intercultural competence of the domestic student before they become a peer, and then after
they’ve finished their term and we’ve noticed that it does increase from that
interaction with an international student,” says Memorial’s Ms. Knutson.
“Because we have such a huge population
here, we tend to stick together, which kind of
forms a unique social bubble.”