How are international students faring in Canada? The statistics at first glance are not promising: only one in five choose to stay in Canada after graduation. Even fewer remain in the Maritimes. Aside from statistics like this, little research has been done on the international student experience, especially in smaller communities.
In a pilot study titled “At home in Atlantic Canada?” Mount Allison University sociology professor Morgan Poteet, in collaboration with students Bianca Gomez and May Cho, hoped to shine some light on the international student experience in small Maritime universities. As part of International Education Month, Poteet and Gomez presented some preliminary results of their research last Thursday night in Avard-Dixon 116 to roughly a dozen attendees.
While the experiences of international students are considerably varied, one hopeful theme emerges from early findings: resilience. Poteet said, “Despite a lot of challenges at first and even into second year, a number of participants said ‘well, it does get better.’ I take that as largely due to international students rising to the occasion and meeting those challenges.” The researchers have been conducting focus groups with international students at Mt. A, Acadia University, and St. Francis Xavier University.
Some of the research themes discussed in their presentation included social exclusion and racism, as some participants reported subtle cues from Canadian students that made them felt ‘different’—like outsiders. Some participants also cited incidents in which they were the subjects of drive-by insults.
Gomez and Poteet said that many participants noted the importance of culturally specific friendship groups, multicultural international student friendship groups, and also intercultural friendships with Canadians who “don’t make assumptions,” and make them feel welcome.
Their preliminary research also found that many international students would like to stay in Canada, but will likely to move to a larger urban setting outside the Maritimes.
Gomez highlighted the ambitious nature of their exploratory research, “Our bigger vision is to see if we can make a few accurate hypotheses of what’s going on among international students who live here … and hopefully in the future influence policymaking.”
The research was first inspired by Poteet’s personal experiences. He transitioned from teaching in Toronto’s diverse classrooms, to teaching in Sackville’s largely white student environment. With his international students in mind, Poteet contacted Adam Christie, Manager of International Affairs at Mt. A, for initial opinions, and went on to design the project with Gomez and Cho.
Poteet sees Gomez and Cho as co-authors of his research study: “They were part of the project from the beginning … I always check with Bianca before making any decisions, even with the analysis.” While they are both still involved with the project, Gomez has assumed a more central role, as Cho graduated from Mt. A last spring.
Gomez echoed the value of such collaborative partnerships between faculty and students. Her involvement in the sociology department, notably this project, turned her doubts about Mt. A and Sackville around. Even though this semester is her last at Mt. A, Gomez plans on staying in Sackville for at least a few more months. “It feels like home,” she said.
Poteet said the projected deadline for the project is April 2014, but there are plans to continue with a second phase of research.
Christie commented on the potential value of the study when completed: “It should be required reading for students, staff, and faculty.”