Each year students travel from countries around the world to attend post-secondary institutions in Canada. Moving to a new country can come with many challenges. Not only are international students adjusting to a different academic system than they are used to, potentially studying in a second language, but they are faced with the challenge of learning a different culture. Attending post-secondary can be hard for people who are born in the city where they attend school. Adjusting to a new culture on top of everything else makes it even more difficult!
Let’s look at some things that we have covered previously in this module that our international students might be dealing with:
- Getting used to a new set of social norms. This includes the social norms of Canada, and the social norms of the school itself. Every community, or institution will have its own individual set of social norms. This is a lot for a new student to adjust to. Often with social norms they aren’t explicitly talked about. Instead they are implicitly referred to. This can be hard for someone who is from a different part of the world.
What are some of the social norms you have noticed on your campus?
- Feeling distanced and disconnected from their own culture. It can feel safe and comfortable to be surrounded by others who have similar cultural backgrounds. There is an “I get you” understanding that is shared. When we are surrounded by people who don’t understand our culture, it can feel scary, and disconnecting. Not only are people missing their culture, but they are likely missing their friends and family too.
Have you ever been somewhere and felt disconnected to the culture, kinda like a fish out of water? How did that feel? What helped you to feel more comfortable?
- Sensing ethnocentrism from people in the community who are a part of the dominant culture. International students might deal with stigma and prejudice when they are out in the larger community. This is not just uncomfortable, but it can feel unsafe. Many new immigrants share stories of the stigma they face, not to mention potential racial profiling, when they come to a new country.
If you have grown up in the country where you attend school, what can you do to provide a safe space for international students?
Different Approaches to Supporting International Students
Most, if not all, post-secondary institutions across British Columbia have several services and programs to support international students. Many of these programs are nestled under student/peer services. Your school may have a program like that.
Groups for International Students
Lots of schools offer groups for international students where topics related to culture are addressed. Some schools offer workshops on topics like finances, learning English as a second language, or cooking. They might also offer groups with the simple intention of meeting new people through playing games, chatting, or engaging in exercise together.
You might choose to help facilitate some of these groups. If you do, it’s a good idea to work through the whole cultural humility module, and also get some training on facilitation. The Peer Leadership module in this curriculum covers some training on how to facilitate groups.
One-to-One Mentorship for International Students
Many campuses also provide one-on-one support for international students. Some programs offer ongoing support and others offer one-off drop in support.
Let’s look at the role definition for international mentors from the Standard of Practice document:
International Peer Support Mentor: This worker is an international student who has had some time to adjust to life on campus and has settled into the local community. They work with new international students and share their lived experience of adjusting to a new culture with them.
International Student Peer Mentor: This is a student who is local to the area, or from another city in Canada. They are not peers in the sense that they have a similar lived experience. However, they are interested in supporting new international students to get comfortable on campus and want to support them to get plugged into student life.
Some campuses might match an International Student mentor who has grown up in Canada, who has a similar cultural background to the new international student. This way there is a shared understanding of language and culture.