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The value of diversity

Panel explores impact of international students

Student Life

By Melanie Callahan

In a typical year, close to 200 international students study at Grenfell Campus through the English as a second language (ESL) and degree programs, and as exchange and transfer students.

Some come from large countries like China and India, while many arrive from smaller remote countries, such as Mauritius and Belize.

Recently, the Association of New Canadians hosted a virtual panel to talk about the experiences of international students and what they bring to Newfoundland and Labrador, and specifically Grenfell Campus.

‘Global classroom’

Melissa Halford, co-ordinator of Grenfell’s ESL program and chair of the International Working Committee, suggests that universities have a responsibility to educate students about more than academics.

“Universities are international by nature; there’s always been a network of researchers and students, but there are reasons why we recruit international students,” said Ms. Halford.

“We strive to have a diversity of people on our campus. As a new student — domestic or international — you’re given the opportunity to work with different groups of people, and it’s a big part of post-secondary education.”

“[Students] are taking little pieces and that’s what builds a rich college or university experience.” — Natasha Hillier

Natasha Hillier, student development officer with the College of the North Atlantic, says internationalization is also a priority for her institution. Conversations between people of different backgrounds, both in and out of the classroom, help build a more meaningful experience.

“Studying with international students provides an opportunity for students in our region who might not have otherwise had the chance to talk to people from around the world,” she said.

“Having international students study here gives our domestic students a global classroom. It is a very rich experience to have diversity in the classroom, whether it be through discussions in class, or working together on projects. Through all of this, they’re taking little pieces and that’s what builds a rich college or university experience.”

Fuelling innovation and creativity

Shireen Merchant, a Grenfell visual arts student from Pakistan, feels that meeting people from around the world encourages everyone to acknowledge a new perspective and set of ideas.

Shireen Merchant
Photo: Lori Lee Pike

“Diversity is important because it is about bringing a new perspective that helps fuel innovation and creativity,” said Ms. Merchant, who also is a member of Grenfell’s international student caucus.

“Meeting people in the community helps me grow as a person. I’m new to Canada and everything is new to me. By immersing myself in the culture, I’m getting more confident. I’m able to talk to different people.”

Willy Gihangange
Photo: Submitted

Kenyan Willy Gihangange, a PhD student at Grenfell, agrees.

“As an agriculturalist and an environmentalist, I believe I have a role in the province to assist in projects like food security and clean energy production to bring new ideas,” he said.

“Colleagues may say, ‘This is the way we do things in Newfoundland,’ and I can sa, ‘How about we try it a different way?’ My input is essential, and I’m happy how much it is valued.”

Ms. Halford adds that people attend Memorial to be students, but they are “so much more than that.”

“They are community members, with colleagues and friends,” she said. “International students, just by nature of coming here to study, are forced to take a lot more initiatives. It takes a lot more steps to get comfortable and that just builds connections, especially when people are open to the connections. Relationships form.

“We all strive to be a welcoming community,” she continued. “It is so hard to define what that is and how to create it. But at the end of the day, it just comes down to someone helping you out and willing to work together.”

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