|Above: International students come together in front of Vari Hall|
New students coming to York can choose whether to attend Academic Orientation for the coming session, but not international or “visa” students – their attendance at International Orientation is mandatory.
All students need to be oriented to the policies and culture of York University’s academic and social experience. International students need an additional introduction to the culture, laws, customs and taboos of Toronto and Canada. York International, the central office at York responsible for coordinating the University’s approach to internationalization, runs orientations to provide this introduction.
Left: International students at the 2009 orientation
International students who attend the orientation will adapt and integrate more quickly to York and Canada. Although there is no real penalty for those who don’t attend, says Craig Wright, coordinator of international student programs at York International, those who miss the session could face some serious consequences – up to and including academic sanctions, expulsion, arrest, deportation or great expense – simply because they aren’t aware of the differences between Canada and their home country.
The risk, says Wright, comes when students from other countries innocently run afoul of Canadian laws and customs because they do not know what to expect. “Many of the social rules and laws we take for granted as Canadians, international students will find challenging, especially in adapting to social norms and the legal system,” Wright says.
One York student, for example, found himself detained by police within hours of arriving in Canada for drinking in a public place – something that is quite legal and normal in his home country. Other students who run into difficulty with their visa status risk having to fly home and reapply to return to complete their studies.
“Orientation for international or visa students is mandatory because there is critical information they need to get that could affect their status as students,” says Wright.
Students can choose to attend one of two all-day orientation sessions scheduled for the Fall-Winter 2010 term, one on Thursday, Sept. 9, with another on Saturday, Sept. 25. Both sessions, which are held at the Keele campus, include information on federal immigration and work policy, and health care, as well as Canadian cultural traditions and geographic and historical overviews of the country.
One of the most popular sessions from International Orientation is on Canada & Canadianisms where Wright discusses how Canada is viewed at home and overseas. Another session features a panel discussion by current visa students who are free to talk candidly about their experiences.
“We get lots of questions related to social activities in Canada, particularly around dating and drinking,” notes Wright. “We help students who are interested apply for BYID cards, since more and more places won’t accept passports.”
One subject of great interest to visa students, who pay a higher proportion of tuition fees because they are not subsidized by the government, is regulations surrounding jobs and how to get student work permits.
What the students won’t get is advice on academic programs or general University policy as this is discussed in the orientation sessions run by their college or Faculty. “We don’t duplicate the information they will get at other orientations,” says Wright. “We’re focused on making it a level playing field for the international students.”
Aside from the critical content, Wright says the most important message at the International Orientation is the same for all students – get involved. “The more you put in, the more you get out,” says Wright. “We encourage the students to get involved, join student clubs, get Canadian work experience, travel and volunteer in the community. Academics are only part of the York experience.”
The first orientation session for international students runs from 9am to 5pm in Stedman Lecture Hall D on Sept. 9. The alternate session runs on Sept. 25, from 9am to 5pm, at the Underground in the Student Centre.