International student Leonie Charlton has twice the work of her peers: The courses she’s enrolled in and learning about the city in which they’re offered.
“I had never been in winter before I came (to Toronto),” says the Jamaican-born Humber College business student. “So the cold was a shock, but I liked the atmosphere, I liked the society and I liked how it’s very accepting.”
Charlton feels an international education puts her at an advantage. “We’re not one of the more developed nations, so in order to get a better grasp of how business operates and get an international scope of what really happens outside of my little area, I wanted to choose a more post-industrial nation that is multicultural and accepting. Where you can grow in its society.”
In turn, international students contribute to the growth of society, according to Michelle Suderman, associate director of international student development at the University of British Columbia.
“Students tell us they come away with a much better understanding of the way people in other parts of the world see an issue,” Suderman says. “If they’re in a class with Canadians and other international students, they’re amazed at how many different ways there are at looking at the same problem.”
For Christine Boake, a graduate of Parsons the New School for Design, studying in New York was less of a culture shock but equally rewarding. “You get to experience a different culture and learn to adapt to all its nuances,” she says, “but you also represent your own country. I was always very proud that I was Canadian.”
Both Boake and Charlton feel that completing a degree abroad puts them at an advantage in the job market. But learning away from home can be difficult.
For Boake it was the constant upkeep of documentation to get in and out of the country. Charlton is finding her Caribbean work experience is not transferable to the Canadian job market.
For others, it’s “getting used to a completely new way of living and often a completely different language,” says Suderman. “Students tell us even small tasks like taking the bus can be complicated because they don’t know they have to step down or ring the bell. There’s a constant feeling of being a fish out of water.”
But “feeling like a foreigner is an interesting experience in and of itself,” says Boake.
It’s part of the education, says Charlton: “Explore, get to know things, ask questions. There’s never a silly question. If someone’s laughing at you, fine. You learn from it.”