Friday, 21 October 2016

Five Ways to Make International Students Feel At Home

Things to consider when talking to an international student
“You’re from Indonesia?! That’s really cool! I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“Oh, Indonesia! I know Bali!”

Those are comments I heard A LOT during my first year at the U of A.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind those comments – but a lot of the time, the conversation ended there…or we ended up talking about Indonesia, where to visit, and how cheap the food is. I’d love to have a conversation where we can get to know each other beyond where I come from!

During my five year journey at the U of A, I made a lot of friends - both Canadian and international students. I struggled a bit to connect with the university community during my first year, but I can proudly say that I made it through! Today I have my U of A Bachelor’s degree, many friends from around the world, and above all, a passion to help other international students.

With all that being said, I’d like to share a few tips on how to welcome international students to the U of A:

1. Let’s get to know each other!

Things to consider when talking to an international student
I love my country, but I am more than the country I am from. Instead of telling a new international student facts or things you have heard about their country, try asking about what they like to do, their interests or hobbies.  Who knows?  Maybe you can refer them to a student club! Or talk about how to find a second-hand textbook for the class you are taking together (we all know how hard it is to score an affordable used textbook!).

2. Talk to strangers in class

Talking to strangers.... in class
Honestly, I learned this trick too late in the game. I wish I was brave enough then, moreover, I wish somebody had talked to me first. I’m sure all of us (at some point in our life) have come across difficult situations where we feel uncomfortable in a new place. Imagine being a student who moved over 12,000 km away from their home country and is trying to fit in. If you would like to get to know an international student, go ahead and start a conversation; it can ease their anxiety of having to be the first to speak.

3. Connect through our similarities and differences!

Get out and into the community
We might come from different countries, but we still share some similarities. I love Starbucks and Korean food (I met my best friend, who is Canadian, through our love for Starbucks) and I also love escaping Edmonton with my Canadian friends to go hiking in Banff. These are just a few examples of how students from different cultural backgrounds can connect through different activities, interests and hobbies. 

4. Feel free to be curious. 

Image courtesy of  MPLYRIKZ.COM

International students might do something that is not normal for you but that doesn’t mean they do it to make you uncomfortable. Trying to understand why they do something in a certain way might spark an interesting discussion. It’s ok to be curious; ask what they are doing by saying something like: “I saw what you were eating and I’ve never tasted it before, what’s it like? Tell me more!”

Last but not least, never assume – ASK! If you’re curious about something, just ask. I tend to be quiet when I’m in a new environment, but, as soon as someone starts a conversation with me, I open up. I love to talk about myself, but what I LOVE even more is getting to know other people!

Some topics to initiate a conversation: residence, textbooks, courses, or even family. It’s quite easy to come up with fun conversation – no need to overthink!

Some of you might think “OMG, am I doing the right thing?” some of you might worry “Am I saying appropriate things?” some of you might say “Will I offend them?”

At the end of the day, there is no one right answer on how to make a person feel welcome, but being sensitive, respectful, and flexible goes a long way to make new friends, especially with someone who comes from a different cultural background. It is nerve-wracking for both you and me! But you might also make a new friend, plus expand your intercultural understanding in the process.

5. Get involved with U of A International 

The University of Alberta International Team

Did you know you have an opportunity to volunteer, meet and make new friends from other countries through University of Alberta International? Located on the main floor in the Telus Centre, the International Services Centre (ISC) has a lot to offer and it’s not only for international students!  The ISC is home to International Student Services (ISS), Education Abroad and the Global Education Program (which offers the Certificate in International Learning).

Becoming an ISS volunteer it is a great first step towards meeting international students, plus it’s a great chance for you to grow your UAlberta international community. How about expanding your world view? Attend International Week (January 30 – February 3, 2017); and while you are at it, experience another culture and go study and work abroad!

Olivia Rosemarie - Guest Contributor


Olivia recently graduated with a BA in Economics and Mathematics. She currently work at UAI- International Student Services; she loves to work with ISS volunteers –maybe way too much. The next thing on her travel list is to visit Shuswap Lake and Waterton National Park. She enjoys Zumba, Starbucks, and oysters –again way too much.
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