By Elaine Smith
This fall, York University welcomes to its campuses more than 2,000 new international students who bring their unique experiences, perspectives, talents and skills to the University and to Canada.
Home to more than 10,000 international students from 178 countries, York is a community of diverse experiences, languages, cultures and viewpoints, notes Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president, global engagement and partnerships.
“This is a privilege we don’t take lightly,” she says. “We know that each journey to Canada began well before a plane, train or car ride to Toronto. We appreciate the trust placed in choosing York and the years of hard work that our international students and their families have put in to make studying at York University, far from home, possible.”
Gengatharan says the University is well-equipped to help steer international students through the challenges they may face, such as housing, finances and adjusting to a new culture, through supports and resources offered through York International (YI).
“We know how important international students are to our community and how much strength and value they bring to York and to Canada. York is committed to continuing to advocate with our municipal, provincial and federal governments to improve services, resources and processes that impact international students.”
Nargis Rafie grew up in Afghanistan and came to Canada as a refugee. She transferred to York this fall to study computer science and is living off campus. After attending YI’s orientation for international and exchange students, as well as a shopping expedition to help students buy essentials, she shared her first impressions of the University.
“The campus is beautiful and the staff is very friendly, helpful and quick to respond,” Rafie said.
Orientation, she said, helped her become familiar with campus and with the resources she needed to set up her new life. It also helped her meet other international students who she plans to stay in touch with.
Nigerian computer science student Fatima Yusuf transferred to York for her second year after attending another Ontario university.
“I wanted a school that had a co-op program and I wanted to be exposed to a more diverse group of people,” she said. “I volunteered at York’s orientation for international and exchange students, checking people at the registration desk. It was nice meeting different people, even briefly, and it was a diverse group.
Her twin sister, Khadija Yusuf, also transferred to York and will be studying commerce with an eye toward becoming an accountant. She jumped right into action, volunteering at orientation and attending a special session for students in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. She is already planning to join the accounting association and will see if her schedule permits other activities.
“I felt that York had better opportunities: more people, more resources and more activities,” said Khadija.
Commitment to international students
Welcoming international students is part of York University’s commitment to advancing global engagement, as stated in the University Academic Plan and York’s new Internationalization and Global Engagement Strategy.
Sarah Bay-Cheng, dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, is aware of the value international students contribute to the learning experience.
“Knowledge doesn’t stay in one place, but relies on the vital movement and exchange of ideas around the world,” says Bay-Cheng. “Global networks are, therefore, essential to the success of researchers, creatives and students everywhere.”
York International works closely with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students and Faculties to design and deliver programs and services to ensure international students succeed and feel at home on campus. It serves as a central hub for international students, offering immigration advising, health insurance, orientation, social events, workshops, academic and career supports, and more.
“We are proud to provide so many excellent students from other countries with a home-away-from-home, and we are committed to ensuring their experience is a fulfilling one, academically, socially and developmentally,” says Woo Kim, director of international scholar and student services for York International.
“We work closely with university partners and Faculties to support students and provide an excellent experience for international students.”
For example, York International offers a Global Peer Program to support prospective and incoming first-year students, keeping them active and engaged as soon as they’ve received their offer to York, to better help them navigate their student journey. Current upper-year students remain connected with newly admitted students through monthly check-ins, virtual group connections and ongoing virtual support. This summer, 112 students completed the program.
Once international students arrive on campus, they are invited to an orientation program geared specifically toward their needs. They receive immigration guidance, are introduced to local community resources, such as banks and cellphone providers, and have the opportunity to network with other incoming students. They also engage in academic orientation delivered by the Faculties.
YI and the Faculties also assist international students with their needs, either through one-one-one guidance, career workshops or social opportunities.
“Our goal is to support international students achieve success, in whatever way they define it, whichever path they choose,” said Gengatharan. “When international students succeed, it is a win for everyone at York and in Canada. “And, to our international students – you belong here, you bring so much to our community and we’re so glad you’ve chosen us.”