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International community breaks down barriers between Providence students

Nov 19, 2018 | Institution / General, News

Providence prides itself on its international community. Seeking the holistic, Christ-centred education offered at the Otterburne, MB campus, students from all over the world—from Australia, Africa, India, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, Southeast Asia and the United States—have made Providence their home.

“Between 20-25 per cent of our student body is made up of international students,” says Debi van Duin, International Student Services Coordinator at Providence. In recent years they’ve represented 25-30 countries, speaking more than 60 languages.”

Two of the last three Providence University College Student Council (STUCO) presidents have been international students. Bardia Salimkhani, who is from Iran and served as STUCO president during the 2016-17 school year, believes the representation of international students in leadership positions on campus points to increasing diversity and growth of acceptance on campus in recent years. “Having international STUCO presidents shows that the community has received them well and considers those students a part of the community,” he says.

Still, there are always the negative effects of cultural shock and misinterpretation experienced by students from abroad, no matter how wide Providence opens its doors. Coming from various countries with different languages, religious traditions and cultural customs, these students often go through periods of cultural shock.

“Ethiopians share almost every aspect of life, from literally eating on the same plate to sharing everything with our neighbours and talking about even the most personal things,” explains Mahlet Teka, the current STUCO president. “Coming to Canada, I have noticed that its community is not as cohesive and, well, communicate as Ethiopia’s.”

Salimkhani adds that living arrangements, in particular, presented a challenge for him and many other international students. “In my time as a student, the biggest challenge was the fact that international students couldn’t stay on campus during scheduled breaks,” he says. “Because of that, many international students, such as myself, had to move in and out of dorm every semester during our entire stay. Not having the security of a place to live is very stressful on international students, as we are already on our own here in Canada.”

A common difficulty international students face is loneliness. Coming from more cohesively-organized communities and adjusting to the more individualistic Canadian culture is often a struggle. However, Providence strives to make all students feel truly welcome.

“Providence staff and faculty interact with international students as individuals and not as faceless numbers,” says Marlin Reimer, Associate Vice-President for Student Life. “We see the individual student for who they are and look at their personality, strengths and needs within a caring community setting.”

Adds Salimkhani, who now works as an Enrollment Officer at Providence: “We treat each student as a member of our community from the first moment they send us an inquiry or ask questions about Providence to the day they graduate. From that first day that they arrive on our campus we know them by name, and it is a great first impression that is simply impossible in bigger universities.”

This approach is not only fostered among staff and faculty at Providence, but also in the school’s residences. Reimer explains that the experience of living in residence helps break down stereotypes among students from different racial, ethnic, spiritual and socioeconomic backgrounds and facilitates opportunities to learn from others and form friendships based on common interests.

Student life is seen as one of the key parts of post-secondary education at Providence, which is why the new Living & Learning Centre, which is being build following the loss of Bergen Hall, will intentionally integrate personal, spiritual and academic education.

“The new centre will offer structures that allow international students to maintain their most important connections to family, friends and food,” says Reimer. “There will be a large community kitchen in which students can cook food together with their friends, and various lounge and study spaces will allow for social gatherings as well as private study and reflection.”

Serving international students is one way Providence fulfills its mission, says Reimer. “The purpose of Providence education is to not only offer credits for students to earn degrees, but also to meet our mission and form people of knowledge and character for leadership and service.”

Naaman Sturrup is an international student from The Bahamas and studying Communications & Media at Providence. This article was initially printed in the Summer/Fall 2018 issue of Eye Witness magazine.