International learners hope to connect better with domestic students

The first-ever International Student Town Hall focused on how to overcome barriers between international and domestic students
Photo: Shaun Klepko
Sierra Lee and Niamh O'Shea, co-chairs of the International Student Advisory Committee, organized Algonquin College's first-ever International Student Town Hall, held on Feb. 28 in the D-building.

Over 40 Algonquin College learners, both international and domestic, came together on Feb. 28 for the inaugural International Student Town Hall.

The event happened in Salon A, in the D-building, and also included over a dozen learners from AC’s Perth and Pembroke campuses who joined via Zoom. The event focused on discussing how international students could better connect with their domestic peers.

“It can be hard to relate because you have different life experiences,” said Vedant Veghela, a first-year biotechnology student from India. “Your cultures can be so different.”

Sierra Lee is a director for the AC Students’ Association, but also co-chair of the AC International Student Advisory Committee and an organizer of the event.

“We’ve had a lot of talks within our committee and from the learners’ side,” said Lee. “We do quite a few surveys through the ISAC, the International Education Centre and the Students’ Association. Also, we’re just speaking with students on an everyday basis. We really found that the biggest struggle that a lot of international students face is: how do we connect with domestic students? How do domestic students connect with us? There’s cultural barriers. There’s language barriers.”

“Sometimes, I feel like ‘I cannot express this, so I should not express this’,” said Veghela.

After a brief introduction, the organizers asked attendees to discuss barriers between international and domestic learners, as well as ways to decrease those barriers. Each table of attendees came up with their own list of answers.

Whether they came from India, China, Africa, Vietnam or Canada, all participants listed similar barriers, such as feeling lost in an unfamiliar setting, being unfamiliar with different cultures or even lacking time to socialize.

“International students often come here just to study,” said Amina Shahin, a first-year technical writer student from India. “They are not necessarily looking for events. We have a lot at stake because we spent a lot of money to be here.”

Niamh O’Shea is AC’s manager of international student integration, co-chair of the ISAC and the main organizer of the event.

“These challenges may exist, but there are things we can do to overcome them,” said O’Shea. “We have 97 clubs across our campuses. We want to make sure those clubs are right in front of students when they want to get involved.”

Attendees also suggested engaging with international students on social media apps they enjoy, such as WeChat or Line, and hosting more traditional cultural events.

“Food at events,” said O’Shea. “That is also a good incentive.”

The organizers provided free pizza and cookies for attendees, and raffled off a $75 gift card for AC’s Connections store. In the coming week, the ISAC will raffle off a second Connections gift card to all attendees who complete an email survey from the ISAC.

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