It is a well-worn (nonetheless true) saying, that it’s often the little things that make all the difference. This is just as true when it comes to university experiences.
Luckily for any international student considering attending a Canadian university, this is something many institutions understand very well. Working hard to meet and cater to specific student needs, Canadian universities offer a range of special services – most of which are available free of charge. From general guidance for visa applications to providing advice and assistance for students looking to gain career-related work experience, institutions across the country are eager to help students make the most of their university experiences.
Take Algoma University for example.
Even although Algoma, located in the Ontario city of Sault Ste. Marie, is one of the country’s smaller universities – hosting around 1,400 scholars each year – it takes great pride in offering its students the highest quality of services possible. Services include unique opportunities within the academic programs themselves – as Algoma’s International Student Outreach Director, Joanne Elvy, explains.
“Because our ratio of students to professors is considerably lower than most universities across Canada, students have the option of accessing their professors here at Algoma for assistance, as well as mentoring,” Elvy explains.
She also mentions some of the university’s other academic services.
“We also have a Writing Lab on campus which offers a variety of free initiatives for international students, to assist them with research skills, report writing, etc. As well, all students can access up to six hours of free tutoring for any course on campus. There is also a Math Lab, which offers the same kind of additional support, and throughout the semester there are workshops for additional tutelage, related to honing one’s reading skills, demystifying plagiarism, tips for PowerPoint presentations, and so on.
“We also have a career counsellor on staff, who assists students with resumé writing, the interview process, etc. We encourage international students to also consider taking Co-op Education as a credit course – where students in their second year can take a weekly prep course for one semester to prepare themselves for employment that positions them to then apply for a co-op position in their field of study (they work for one semester, 35 hours a week, in a monitored environment – they apply for a work visa, and we assist them to find employment within our roster of co-op positions). Statistically speaking, this places international students in an advantageous position for future employment, because they will have had Canadian work experience, but as well they will learn strategic skills that they can then apply to employment in the future, post-graduation.”
At nearby Sault College, also located in Sault Ste. Marie, there is a similar emphasis on helping students obtain work experience.
“Many Sault College programs have a required workplace placement – some paid, some unpaid,” explains Krista Pearson, the college’s registrar.
“In addition, we also offer a student job centre and academic/career counselling on-campus, as well as partnership in Employment Solutions in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. There is considerable focus on supporting students to gain employment upon graduation.”
Sault Ste. Marie is also home to a number of businesses and industry operations – both local as well as multinational – giving students extra chances to network.
“Our principal industry in Sault Ste. Marie is Essar Steel (www.essar.com),” explains Algoma’s Joanne Elvy.
“Not only has this added texture to our community (diversifying the base population, etc), but imagine having the option to take on a co-op internship there! For example, a student from the Gulf states or from India can come to a smaller community in Canada and rub shoulders with those who work in one of the largest multinational conglomerates in the world.”
“Another industry, Tenaris,” Elvy continues, “produces piping for the oil industry here in Sault Ste. Marie. It is an Argentinian multinational based in Buenos Aires. We therefore have a growing Latin American community here in the Sault, and recently the Sault area Latin Association hosted a Latin Salsa Dance Party. Many of our international students went – you should see the Facebook pictures!”
Each campus also has a wide variety of services available. Many provide housing options which cater specifically to married students, and/or students accompanied by children. This, in addition to childcare facilities and/or daycare programs at many of the campuses, allows mature students to concentrate on their studies without worrying about leaving their families behind.
Canadian campuses are also known for their well-equipped fitness centres – many of which include such options as extensive weight training equipment, cardio machines, optional exercise classes of all kinds (i.e., yoga, zumba, pilates, etc), squash and tennis courts, ice rinks, and even swimming pools. Besides giving students the opportunity to stay healthy and active, these services also provide newcomers a great way to meet other students by participating in group activities and/or regular intra-mural games.
International students will be particularly happy to know that all of CUAC member universities (those affiliated with the Canadian University Application Centre) provide dedicated advisors and often full centres, specifically for them. Through these centres and their connected programs, scholars are helped to settle in, supported throughout their studies, and even encouraged to share their unique cultures with the rest of the student body.
“Just recently, for example, we held a ‘C-Night’ at Algoma,” says Elvy. “Hosted by our 23 Chinese students, it included great food and karaoke (and it wasn’t just the Chinese students up there singing!). In two weeks, AMSA (Algoma Multinational Student Association) is also holding another event, ‘J-Night’, for our 46 Japanese students on campus. In early January, it was “K-Night” (Korea Night), and at the end of February, ‘Africa Night’ helps celebrate Black History Month.”
It is these kinds of events which Joanne says helps set Canadian universities like Algoma apart, in the sense that they really help students to feel a sense of community, while still maintaining (and celebrating) their unique backgrounds. And it is just these types of extras that she encourages any potential international students to look for when choosing universities to apply to overseas.
“Applicants often focus too narrowly on the degree itself,” she says, “as opposed to considering that they have to ‘live’ out their daily lives in a new language, in a new country, in a new culture – away from familiar family and friends. Think about how the decision you are making now for post-secondary options, will impact you five years from now, 10 years from now ... and choose carefully!” she urges. “Step beyond your familiar boundaries.”
– ARWEN KIDD
• ARWEN KIDD currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.