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May 10, 2001 Younger international students need more academic advising




Japanese international students

These international students from Japan wore traditional kimonos at a recent exhibit on the Hall Building mezzanine. Left to right are Maiko Nakay (Educational Studies), Naomi Yamasaki (Psychology) and Asako Tanaka (Educational Technology).

Photo by Vincenzo D'Alto

by Barbara Black

Claudette Fortier, Coordinator of the International Students Office (ISO), and Pat Hardt, Assistant Coordinator, have noticed some changes in their clientele.

For one thing, they’re younger. Probably as a result of determined recruiting efforts, more of our new international students are about 18 or 19, the age of our homegrown students. And that can lead to problems.

Traditionally, international students tended to be mature; they may have had some work experience in their own country, and possibly an undergraduate degree, too. However, an increasing number of Concordia’s international students are going straight from their parents’ homes into a culture that offers a high degree of freedom and responsibility.

Fortier and Hardt urge the Faculties that are spending effort, imagination and expense on recruiting more students from abroad to be aware of the special academic needs of these students.

Changing clientele

The ISO gives orientation workshops to small groups of international students for about four weeks at the beginning of every term, but Fortier and Hardt say it’s an ongoing challenge to match the support services and programs to this growing and changing clientele.

“Last year, we saw 800 students over four weeks,” Hardt said. “We try to make the workshops as personalized as possible. Many students would benefit from more individual follow-up, especially the young, first-year students who are more vulnerable to academic difficulties and culture shock.”

“They arrive full of confidence— I’m an excellent student, I can handle five full courses—and then they find they can’t. Or there are the ones who arrive already overwhelmed and homesick—we can spot them right away.”

Fortier continued, “Many are under a lot of pressure, especially when their parents are supporting them. For many families, the financial burden is great, and students feel compelled to register for a lot of courses and do well. All this in addition to the other challenges in their life.”

International students find their feet eventually and do well, even spectacularly well, but the ISO staff often hear students complaining that they did not have enough guidance, particularly academic advising, when they first arrived.

“Not only is it a different culture for them, but it’s a different academic culture,” Hardt said. “They don’t realize their professors expect them to speak out in class, for example. Many have no idea of the writing that’s involved in their courses. Five minutes with an academic advisor isn’t enough.”

Fortier is an active member of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, which has been lobbying government to improve conditions for these students.

For example, Canada is one of the few remaining countries that doesn’t allow holders of an international student visa to work off campus. For a student who can’t afford a $1,000 ticket home, it can mean a lonely summer with few available courses, when he or she could be gaining work experience and making some pocket money.

Fortunately, the Concordia International Students Association (CISA) was created three years ago. These students provide a warm welcome and support for their new peers in the form of social activities and outings to see more of Quebec. CISA has been invaluable in enhancing the services and programs provided by the International Students Office.