January 29, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 66  

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Western’s international (wo)men of mystery

By Lorraine Forster
Gazette Staff

As Canadians, most of us aren’t surprised when we have to walk up University College Hill in a torrent of ice and snow; however, imagine having come to Canada from a country where it never snows. This is just one of the many adjustments that Western’s international student population is faced with on a daily basis.

Rachel Crowe, interim program co-ordinator for the Student Development Centre’s International Student Services, says transition periods vary for international students. “It depends on the person and where they’re from,” she notes in regards to the level of adjustment they need to make upon arriving in Canada.

Crowe explains that adjustment issues include culture shock, finding a place to live, weather, setting up a bank account and more. “It’s all everyday stuff, but there are different ways that we have of doing them here,” she says.

In order to be accepted at Western, students must be able to speak English; however, Crowe says some students have difficulty with everyday Canadian slang, humour and certain expressions. ISS provides small English conversation classes for students and their spouses, if applicable, which are run entirely by volunteers. Crowe says most students find this service beneficial as it improves their communication skills.

On top of this service, ISS provides a peer guide program called International Student Peer Connection, she explains. According to Crowe, the program involves upper-year students, Canadian or international, who keep in contact with international students to help ease them through their adjustment to living in Canada.

Fabiana Tepedino, communications and programs assistant at ISS, arrived from Kuwait as an international student in 1998. Tepedino says she also lived in Venezuela. “I’ve moved around a lot and I know what it’s like to be new,” she notes.

Having gone through her own adjustment to Canadian culture, she felt the desire to assist others dealing with similar issues. This motivated Tepedino to become a peer guide a year after moving to Canada.

As a peer guide, Tepedino says the most important aspect of the program is “just getting to know each other.” The guides befriend new students through phone calls, e-mail, trips for coffee, international dinner nights and other planned events. Crowe adds that this program allows international students to make friends and contacts, and gives them comfort in “just having a face to recognize.”

As a support outlet, the ISS provides international students with counselling for personal and adjustment issues, assistance with immigration regulations, loan and bursary assistance and job searches, Tepedino explains. They also run ongoing social events such as “coffee and conversation,” potluck dinners, snow tubing, sports events, movie nights and outings in the community and surrounding area, she says.

Tepedino says when she arrived in Canada she dealt with the normal feelings of homesickness, but “everything was so new and exciting” that it was not her main focus. She remembers having to adjust to Canada’s cold weather, which resulted in one her of biggest struggles: not knowing what cold weather gear to buy to arm herself against the freak blizzards Canadians are all too familiar with.

Overall, Tepedino says the adjustment issues facing international students are generally the same as those facing regular university students. Many international students, however, do not have the option of going home for the weekend, she says, something in which many Canadian students find comfortable.

If you are interested in becoming a peer guide, ISS is recruiting upper-year Canadian and international students to become guides for 2004-05. To fill out an application, visit the ISS website at www.sdc.uwo.ca. Information about the programs described, along with others, can be found at www.sdc.uwo.ca/int/


By the numbers:
How do international student fees differ from those of Canadian students?

Undergraduate arts fee for one year of study for Canadian students:
$4, 966.69

$4, 140 — tuition
$494.55 — student organizations
$329.44 — university services
$2.70 — CanCopy fee
Undergraduate arts fee for one year of study for international students:
$13, 189.16

$11, 750 — tuition
$494.55 — student organizations
$2.70 — CanCopy fee
$612.47 — International health plan

(Source: www.registrar.uwo.ca — numbers dated for 2003-04 school year)



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