positive results. “As time went on, we hung out more and they helped my
English tremendously,” he says of his roommates, with whom he ended
up living for all four years of his undergraduate degree.
another approach to internationalization is to get domestic students to
see it as a benefit and even a skill. That’s led to initiatives like an intercultural certificate, a six-module course offered by Laurier International,
the school’s diversity and equity office and its Centre for Teaching
and Learning, on topics like exploring difference, micro-aggressions and
intercultural communication. More than 175 students obtained the certificate in the past academic year.
Getting faculty involved is also crucial. Guoqiang (George) Zhou, a
professor in the faculty of education at the University of Windsor who
has conducted several studies on the integration of international students
on Canadian campuses, says faculty need to remember that international
students usually aren’t accustomed to their teaching style. “In many cases,
our pedagogical approaches do not match,” says Dr. Zhou, adding that an
ideal approach would see students and teachers together discussing what
a classroom and a teacher looks like in each country. “Through this negotiation process, both sides understand each other better,” he says.
At Thompson Rivers University, where 2,800 of the university’s more
than 25,000 students are international, cultural understanding is a strategic priority made concrete by an international research conference held
in 2015 and 2017, and an annual four-day faculty development program
called “Interculturalizing the Curriculum” put on by the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. It includes everything from intercultural
theory and models to Aboriginal pedagogy to curriculum reviews. Kyra
Garson, coordinator of TRU’s interculturalization programs, says these
types of initiatives go a long way to improving cultural awareness, and
work best when positioned to celebrate culture.
“The most important part of making intercultural understanding
a strategic priority is that it doesn’t focus solely on integrating inter-
national students, but rather recognizes and celebrates diversity both
domestic and international,” says Dr. Garson. Mr. Yang agrees: “In the past,
it’s been more like a one-way street. We place the burden of integration on
the shoulder of international students. We talk about cultivating, educat-
ing global citizens … so why are Canadian students not fully engaged or
taking advantage of the opportunities at their doorstep?”
Despite these efforts, challenges remain. A 2015 study by the Canadian
Bureau for International Education of over 4,000 international students
showed that while 95 percent would definitely or probably recommend
Canada as a place of study, only 29 percent said they saw themselves as
having a lot of success being involved in campus activities. And technical
challenges like study permit wait times are still a work in progress for
At Memorial, Ms. Knutson handles her 2,500 international charges
with only 4½ staff on her team, a resource restriction that seems common. She thinks schools also could be doing more to help international
students with their postgraduate transitions and career tracks (she points
to her university’s foray into entrepreneurship training for international
graduate students as a bright new pathway). Mr. Hassan Nejad at Memorial sees mental-health support for international students as the next big
priority, along with better communication about services.
Still, the international students who have worked their way through
the Canadian system seem to have found value. Now acclimatized in his
environment, Mr. Hassan Nejad says he has fallen for his new province
and would love to find a job here, either in academia or industry. “All I can
say about Newfoundland is that people are so kind … and after a few years
you really feel that this is your second home,” he says.
Mr. Pang says he loves Canada’s diversity and he too would like to stay
here, and in academia, following his master’s degree. He’s already making his own contribution, with an undergraduate thesis on cross-cultural
adaptation by Chinese students in Canadian universities that he presented at the Canadian Association of Geographers conference this past May
at York University.
As for me, apparently my assumption about the Skype window was
wrong: Mr. Pang communicates with his family daily through a popular Chinese voice- and text-messaging app called WeChat. Turns out
anyone can learn something new from an international student. All I had
to do was ask.
“We talk about cultivating global citizens, so
why are Canadian students not taking advantage
of the opportunities at their doorstep?”