4 things I’ve learned from international students

4 things I’ve learned from international students

Every year Canada welcomes its doors to hundreds of new international students. What compels people to go abroad to study? When I came to Canada from the United States as an international student myself in 2005, I felt drawn to this community of diverse individuals. I felt compelled throughout my university degree and now in my career to find what draws us together and then, in turn, why we all came to Canada.

Currently I work for Fraser International College (FIC), a first-year pathway programme to Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia, Canada. As Student Services Coordinator at FIC, I work one-on-one with international students every day and it’s my job to help them find a home away from home. Whether it’s organising ‘Open Mic Nights’, hosting leadership training programmes or streamlining student volunteer opportunities, I try to find creative opportunities for international students to make new and meaningful connections.

International students play a crucial role in countries around the world, including in Canada, where they have boosted our economy and enriched our cities. A 2009 Departmental Report for Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) states that international education produces $6.5 billion of economic activity per year, in addition to sustaining 83 000 jobs. Furthermore it contributes $291 million in government revenue. Here are four lessons I’ve learned from my experience of working with international students in Canada.

International students create opportunities

Institutions for international education in Canada genuinely create opportunities for students who wouldn’t otherwise have had them, and we’ve had great success doing so. Approximately 90% of students in a 2014 Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) survey stated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their Canadian experience.

International students are not the only ones who benefit – so does the Canadian economy and culture. 50% of those in the CBIE survey stated that they wanted to apply for permanent residence status in Canada, showing their level of long-term interest in Canada. The CBIE survey also found that 95% indicated they would definitely or probably recommend Canada as a study destination. The more international students who find success here, the more other international students will be encouraged to come to Canada to obtain their post-secondary education.

International students enrich local culture

Every day my students surprise me. Every day. By the time I come to one conclusion about the world, the students will throw me for a loop and completely change my perception. For example, as an American I always assumed that everyone knew the sports traditions: songs, food, and atmosphere. I took twelve students from a variety of countries to a baseball game and found myself standing alone during renditions of ‘Take me out to the Ball Game’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’. They were mystified by candy corn and the fireworks at the end of the game. I had been working with international students for a few years at this point. However, I was still surprised by my own assumptions. I am always learning and unlearning. International students have the same effect on their communities. We all become more culturally aware thanks to the international students in our midst.

International students help us forge international relationships

The relationships developed on North American campuses bring opportunities for growth and development for everyone involved. International students develop ultra-strong relationships with the people on their respective new campuses. These students create informal families on their campuses. Recently, I witnessed one student experience tragedy in his family. His friends surrounded him with support and care. Canadians, Mexicans, Nigerians, Chinese, and many more types of students arrived at the hospital to support their friend. These friendships that develop on our campuses are made of strong bonds. Recently one of these students invited me and his friends to his wedding in Kenya. These students stick together through some of the most turbulent times of their lives. These relationships not only create learning opportunities but they also create long-term bonds that cross borders.

International students provide fresh perspectives

Every international student comes to university with the expectation of discovering a new world, meeting completely different people, and, in general, changing their lives. They can be whoever they want to be. By welcoming them onto our campuses, we are opening ourselves up to vulnerabilities. We get our own second chance to be better and face new challenges. We should welcome these challenges. They make us rethink our assumptions.

I feel so lucky every day to be surrounded by a diversity of cultures. To me, the international student community feels like home. I love meeting new international students and I know I’ll continue to learn from them every day.

Elise Goodreault, Student Services Coordinator, Fraser International College,Vancouver, Canada

Useful links:

A World of Learning: Canada’s Performance and Potential in International Education 2014

Canada’s International Education Strategy: Focus on Scholarships