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The ‘power of the student voice’ heard at The PIE Live

The international student roundtable session at the The PIE Live North America conference in Toronto brought together leaders in higher education with current students to discuss the true experience of study life in Canada.

International students and leaders in higher ed gathered to discuss the realities of life studying in Canada. Photo: The PIE News

It was a timely discussion into the challenges students face

The session, moderated by Nicholas Cuthbert, encouraged students to be brave and discuss the good and the bad aspects of their experience.

It was a timely discussion into the challenges students face, as a national TV documentary which aired the same day, raised ethical concerns about international student welfare and recruitment mis-selling practices.

“I thought I was prepared; I was very wrong,” said Adnan Mammedzada, a bachelor of business administration graduate from Brock University.

Speaking to the assembled delegates he explained: “when I got here [to Canada] I realised the teaching style was completely different [to my previous education in the United Arab Emirates]. Case discussion method is popular here but back home we basically just read from the slides.”

“I thought I was prepared; I was very wrong”

“This was definitely a problem at first because I didn’t really know how to deal with case [studies] but then you get support from your friends and your instructors. This is now one of the main reasons I aspire to be a management consultant as it requires a lot of problem solving and forward thinking [skills which my degree in Canada has given me],” Mammedzada added.

Siddharth Tuteja, who is completing his advanced diploma in electromechanical engineering at Sheridan College, talked about the increased challenges associated with being part of the covid-era cohort of students.

“When I moved to Canada in January 2020, covid happened in March so all my classes moved online, despite the fact I’d been on campus for three months. I had a lot of questions” he explained.

“I was possibly the worst student for the advisory team as they would receive an email from me every other day.”

The targeted support needed by international students was compounded by the pandemic, but Tujeta is thankful for the support he received, saying: “I have probably spent ten hours asking questions to university support teams over my two years of study but they really helped me get out of my comfort zone.”

Other students expressed differing views on how prepared they felt prior to enrolment.

Akashdeep Singh, a business studies student from Sheridan College explained in retrospect he was well prepared for life in Canada thanks to the information given to him by his college before he left his home in India.

“I felt like I was prepared for my educational experience because my institution held pre-departure orientations where I got to know about health insurance, what I needed to pack for my journey, and I knew what it would look like on my first day of school. It was all given to me [in advance] and that was something that really helped me.”

“I have probably spent ten hours asking questions to university support teams over my two years of study”

Ironically, Mariana Valverde, a Portuguese student who was already living in Canada when she applied to Centennial College, felt there was a communication gap because of her situation of applying on-shore.

“I didn’t have an agent to help me apply, so all the information I got was directly from my college,” she recalled.

“I was talking to other people online who were getting into the same programme as me and the information they were getting was completely different from what I was getting” Valverde continued.

“A friend of mine who came from overseas, received a package [from the college] telling her what she needed to have for campus, a timetable and everything she would actually need – but because I was already here I didn’t get it.”

Another Centennial College student, Maria Fernandes Rodriguez de la Garza from Mexico, reminded leaders that even when information has been provided more needs to be done to ensure students are supported.

Garza shared the experience of a classmate who had been too afraid of private healthcare costs and declined to seek medical assistance when needed and had sadly passed away.

It was a sobering reminder that beyond any communications and support strategy, each student has individual needs that are often heightened in the international student community.

The roundtable, sponsored by LCI Education, featured a widely diverse range of views and experiences across twenty students, representing eleven different institutions and twelve different nationalities.

When asked who needed to work part-time to financially support themselves in Canada, all of the students in the session raised their hand. In a follow up question that asked if their intention was to remain in Canada after graduation to seek permanent residency, the vast majority of students kept their hands raised.

The Canadian government recently lifted restrictions on the number of hours that international students can work each week in a bid to ease national labour shortages and the spiralling cost of living for students.

Amy Baker, CEO of The PIE, used her closing remarks to praise the input of students in the event: “We realised the power of the student voice again, and it was so meaningful to have the opportunity to talk to international students and a reminder there is always a gap in our knowledge we can fill by talking to students and asking them for their own authentic experience.”

“We have brought together a diverse and thoughtful group of leaders and aspiring leaders in international education and it has been important to include international students in the room,” she added.

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