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The world comes to Memorial

International students numbers continue to surge


Rebecca Kalombo and Hanbyal Kim.

 

By Catherine Burgess

If you travel throughout the world, you will find that encountering a new culture radically different from your own can occasionally leave you feeling overwhelmed with culture shock. This is especially true for the international student.

Of Memorial’s 17,000-plus students, about 1,200 are international students. These students represent over 90 countries across the globe. Some of the major contributors include China, India, Zimbabwe, and Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Libya. Many students who come to Memorial are interested in pursuing competitive fields such as business and engineering. Programs such as the Faculty of Business’ 2 Plus 2 program — where students complete two years of postsecondary education in China and two in St. John’s at Memorial — welcome international students into specific academic focuses.

Memorial has plenty of services in place, such as academic advising, to assist its new international students with handling their scholarly endeavours. But what of the other major component of a post-secondary education — the campus life? What does Memorial offer to its international students living in a new community with an entirely different culture from their own?

A number of organizations operating on the Memorial campus serve the international community. There is an international student resource centre, which is a student-led resource centre run for students through the student union; the International Centre works closely with student mobility, and assists students from Memorial with travelling outside of the Newfoundland community; and the International Student Advising Office (ISA), acts as an assistant to the international students arriving at the university, preparing them to be ready to face various challenges they may encounter.

Many of the international organizations offer programs to students that will help them to adjust to Memorial’s post-secondary student life. The ISA, for example, will offer a peer mentorship program that will fully begin in the autumn season of 2011. In this program, each new international undergraduate student will be matched with a volunteer who will assist him or her with the business of settling in. The ISA also organizes events, creating opportunities for the international students to become involved in the Memorial community.

“We also have a family coordinator who deals specifically with helping the families of students—their spouses and their children—with getting involved in campus and community life,” said Yvonne Collett of the ISA.

“English as a Second Language programs also do a lot of work with international students, as well, [and] we have a lot of international-themed clubs and societies,” added Tom Brophy, director of student success programs with Student Affairs and Services.

•••

Rebecca Kalombo came to Newfoundland from Johannesburg, South Africa nearly two years ago to pursue a major in biochemistry with a minor in psychology.

“My whole family moved to Newfoundland in 2009,” she said. “Memorial University was the closest university to home. MUN was offering all that we wanted, and the tuition fees were really good. It has a good reputation too. And it has a great medical school,” adds the aspiring medical school student.

Since beginning her studies at Memorial, Rebecca has become very involved in a number of volunteer initiatives, such as the Biochemistry Society, MUN Hope, RADHOC, and Best Buddies, a program that pairs university students with children who have autism.

“[International students] have to do well in school, not just in order to stay in university, but because your parents have spent so much money to send you here,” said Rebecca. “You have to do well, not only for yourself, but also not to let down your parents and your family that are rooting for you.”

She says that for her, making the transition into post-secondary education was not too challenging. “I suppose because I had gone to university in South Africa for a year, I was more exposed to the university life, like the independence, [and] the work load. But I can’t imagine anybody else from, say, high school, coming to a new place, a different culture; you get a culture shock.”

Of her time so far at Memorial, Rebecca says. “It’s been a good experience because Memorial has a diversity of people, so that’s nice. There are different people from all walks of life.”

Hanbyal Kim decided at a young age that she wanted to come to Canada, after a family trip to Vancouver when she was in the second grade. “I always wanted to learn English and I really enjoyed learning English, and I wanted to study in Canada,” she says. Several years after her first visit to Canada, she made the move from her home in South Korea to Newfoundland.

“I actually came to Newfoundland in Grade 9, so I’ve been here for a while. I came with my brother; my parents still live back home, and so I stay with a Homestay family.”

Now a fourth-year student studying chemistry, Hanbyal is in the final year of her degree at Memorial. “Now I love it here. I don’t want to leave!” she laughs.
Hanbyal had a relatively easy transition into life in the St. John’s community, living with her Homestay parents. She was able to attend high school in St. John’s, and was familiar with Memorial before she became an undergraduate student.

She has become involved with the Chemistry Society, and heads the Korean Students’ Society. She says that while the Korean population may be small at Memorial, people who have taught English in Korea often join in the society’s activities.

“When I first came here, there weren’t a lot of international students, but there are a lot now, and ISA is growing every year. It’s really cool to see how diversity is growing and I can participate in that too.”

“ISA is doing a great job,” she adds. “They’re accommodating new students and they have a mentor program where first-year students get matched up with other international students who’ve been here longer. I think that’s a really good program. I wish I had that when I first came!”

Hanbyal wants to stay in St. John’s after she graduates and plans to apply for Canadian residency status. Of her experience at Memorial, she says, “It’s not easy for anyone to come to a new city, a new university and a different culture, but I’ve really enjoyed my university life at MUN. There are a lot of really great people and the university provides a lot of services so students can be informed about pretty much anything. I think St. John’s is a great place to study.”

•••

Memorial University will continue to adapt its services for international students as the international community changes at the university. Mr. Brophy says we can certainly expect changes in the number of students within this community.

“Often, the economic and political cycles of governments around the world affect this change,” he says.

“It all depends on where people focus, how things unfold, and what goes on in the world. It’s usually the government that pays for its students to attend universities [overseas], so if there is a freeze put on any expenditures going out of the country then that also affects its students.”

“We’re continuing to grow our services for international students, and as our international population continues to grow so too with their demands and their needs,” says Mr. Brophy.

“We are in a stage of growth,” Ms. Collett says of Memorial. “More and more, the university, in particular through the work of the International Centre, is doing more to internationalize the campus. Part of that is also internationalizing the community.”

As Memorial continues this growth, we must remember that internationalization is not something that is exclusive to international students. All members of the university can become involved with its international community. “We’re all responsible for international students here,” says Ms. Collett. “Not just the ISA, or the International Centre.”

Mr. Brophy outlines that internationalization does have more meaning than simply having to do with an international community. It affects all members of the university community.

“How do we make Canadian students more aware of other cultures and how they communicate; how to we make Memorial’s faculty and staff comfortable with working with our international students,” says Mr. Brophy.

“I’d like to see more international experiences happen for our Canadian students who are attending Memorial so they have more of an opportunity to interact with people from other cultures,” he adds. “At the same time, our students from other countries need to be open to seeking out those opportunities and sharing their cultures.”

To make the most of their experience at Memorial, both Canadian and international students should take advantage of the services offered by the university. Students should get involved with their university’s internationalization, and explore international opportunities both on campus and off, and outside of Canada. This can be a truly rewarding experience for people who seek out new endeavors and make new connections with people who represent different cultures.

As Mr. Brophy said, “One of the best ways to understand yourself is to explain who you are to someone else.”

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