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Welcome to Canada? : experiences and views of international graduate students at the University of British Columbia Lyakhovetska, Regina Arkadiyivna

Abstract

There is a significant body of research literature on problems of adaptation of international students, but there is a general scarcity of research on issues related to international students and internationalization of higher education. This qualitative study was designed to examine the experiences of international graduate students with respect to their academic and social life, finances and employment as well as experiences with the student services and perceptions of inclusion in campus community. Their views about internationalization at UBC were also examined. Ten students from nine different countries studying in one department at the Faculty of Education participated. Individual indepth interviews and a focus group were conducted. The study has revealed that experiences of international students are as diverse as their backgrounds. Three participants studying at a PhD level were consistently satisfied with all aspects of their experiences. They were active in class discussions; they attended and presented in seminars and conferences. They had scholarships or sufficient family savings or secure on-campus assistantships. They felt included in the campus community and found the community at the department very welcoming. In contrast, Masters students from non-English speaking countries have found it challenging to survive and progress at university. Few were active in classroom discussions, extra-curricular academic and social activities. None reported having developed more than one or two meaningful contacts with Canadian classmates and faculty throughout their studies. They did not feel included in the department community or felt neither excluded nor included. They talked about feeling strangers and outsiders. Few used student services. They reported significant challenges in finding on-campus jobs. However, they developed many connections with other international students. Several of them volunteered to help other international students feel welcome. Although these students reported having struggled a lot, they also learned a lot from their experiences and became more independent, more outspoken and more proactive. Participants agreed that international students should be more active in sharing their backgrounds and participating in campus activities, but they needed the university to reach out for them as well and make them feel an important part of campus. The majority of them believed that international students were bringing a variety of benefits to teaching, learning and research. They listed Canadian students, faculty members, other international students and the university as a whole among the main beneficiaries. Based on the findings above, the following areas were identified where the majority of participants felt their needs were not fully met and improvements would enable them to have better educational and social experiences. These areas included academic programming, social interaction, community sensitivity, support services, institutional and government policies, and the role of international students in internationalization. This study recommends enhanced efforts by a host university and its community to integrate international students in and outside the classroom. It also calls for greater attention to provision of language training, curriculum internationalization, and easing of institutional and government policies restricting financial aid and employment opportunities for international students. Successful interaction and collaboration between international students and host universities will advance the process of university internationalization.

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