How to acclimatise Indian students abroad
A mandate by the federal government to double the number of international students studying in Canada by 2020 has created an opportunity for institutions.
The number of international students from India studying in Canada in 2014 is 28,929, of which 13,000 students have arrived over the last four years. This represents 10% of the total number of international students studying in Canada.
With the significant increase, universities have been struggling to acclimatise this group – socially and academically – into their institutions.
Domestic students attending college for the first time at commuter institutions still face challenges acclimatising socially and academically. Those at residential colleges face significantly more challenges due to the changed environment.
Many of these domestic students end up dropping out and enrolling at institutions closer to home, should they be unable to acclimatise.
International students travelling vast distances to attend college in Canada do not have the luxury of going back home should they be unable to acclimatise.
Many international students’ families have taken on significant amounts of financial debt to send their children abroad, and should their children return home without an education, this could have significant ramifications both financially and socially.
Faced with new surroundings and having to leave their social circle behind, international students from India have a challenging time adjusting to the intense social and intellectual demands of college life.
One of the top challenges faced by international students from India relate to transportation, finding their way from the airport and eventually around the city. Upon arrival, many international students have difficulty finding a place to stay that is affordable and within a reasonable distance from the college.
Even though many students have met the English language requirements through standardised testing, many still find it challenging to comprehend lectures, which leads to academic difficulties.
Local idioms or phrases used by domestic students are not understood by international students from India, making it very difficult to integrate socially.
The majority of international students from India struggle financially. Unable to work more than 20 hours per week, and facing a very limited number of work opportunities, this group is unable to participate socially with other students. Many social activities require some form of payment.
Many of these factors lead students to become isolated and feel lonely, and their only form of consolation is connecting with their friends and families from abroad.
To better acclimatise international students from India into institutions in Canada, it is important for post-secondary institutions to have a very robust student orientation programme.
International students from India should be encouraged to attend these sessions, to build familiarity with their programme, get to know other students and to become more familiar with their programme and faculty.
Colleges with large international student cohorts should consider the practice of delivering orientation abroad and should allow for social activities exclusively for international students after the completion of the full group orientation upon arrival in Canada.
Faculty and staff at post-secondary colleges in Canada should be informed about how the institution supports international students from India. In addition, other campus staff should be trained to provide the variety of services that are needed by international students from India, such as help with the challenges they face in comprehension.
In-service workshops should be provided for faculty, support staff and administrators during the course of the school year, detailing how to work with this student population.
Setting expectations while students are still in India would help in preparing students regarding service limitations on campus. For example, prospective students should be informed of lack of opportunities for financial assistance, the lack of off-campus employment due to demand and sparse on-campus employment.
It is also important to provide students with information related to the harsh Canadian winters, thus allowing students an opportunity to prepare for this experience.
Financial tuition payments are a concern for international students and, given the limited availability of scholarships, grants and assistantships for international students, most must rely on personal funding.
Therefore, it is advisable that institutions ensure that international students are given clear guidelines regarding tuition payments and increases.
International students from India have difficulty getting to and from campus due to a lack of convenient transportation options. Some ideas to alleviate the situation include the following:
- • Colleges could start a ‘safe ride’ service that provides taxi pick-up anywhere within the institution’s city limits and delivery to a student’s residence. This service would be available to students at night through to the early morning.
- • The college could offer a list of students that drive and are willing to offer carpooling services to international students from India.
- • Colleges could start offering a shuttle bus service should they have more than one location.
It is important to include this student population when developing and implementing campus diversity initiatives.
By offering and implementing a variety of campus policies and activities, the college can acknowledge its willingness to embrace difference and encourage students and staff to examine what mainstream culture means to them and to better understand their assumptions.
* Maher Ghalayini is associate dean in the school of applied health at Sheridan College in Canada.