November 22 to 26 is International Education Week (IEW), an annual event celebrated in over 100 countries. “IEW provides an opportunity to showcase the cultural diversity of the wonderful international student population at Mount Allison and highlight the importance of international education,” said Robin Walker, the International Affairs Coordinator at Mt. A, and Christa Maston, Mt. A’s International Student Advisor.
Minaho Ae, the International Centre Intern, explained the goals for IEW. “IEW is an opportunity for those who have experienced international education in their academic journey to share their experiences and knowledge with other students,” she said. Throughout the week, the Mt. A community will be able to purchase a student-made international cookbook, browse the International Book Library, visit the Study Abroad and Exchange Fair, participate in the International Cultural Festival, and hear about student experiences with international education.
Ahn Pham is a second year student pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce and a minor in economics, as well as international economics and business. Originally from Vietnam, she completed her last two years of high school in Moncton before attending Mt. A. “I went out of my comfort zone when I was 16 years-old. Deciding to go study abroad is the biggest decision in my life and it has changed my life a lot,” she said. In the future, she hopes to return to Vietnam and help her mom run her business so her mom “can enjoy her time in retirement.”
For Pham, the highlight of her time at Mt. A has been starting her own business, the Vietnamese Kitchen, over the summer. “I had the chance to apply all the theories I learned in my first year to the food business over the summer,” she said. “We bring Vietnamese food, especially spring rolls, barbeque pork, and vermicelli, to Sackville.” Pham was set up at the farmers’ market on Saturdays over the summer and was pleased with the community feedback she received. “They really welcomed and supported us,” she said. She encourages people to check the business’ Instagram page, @_thevietnamesekitchen_, for updates coming later this winter.
Mehedi Meraj, a third-year computer science and math student from Bangladesh, was originally considering universities in Europe for his education, but was convinced by his family to apply to schools in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. “The first reply I got was from Mount Allison, luckily within 14, 15 days,” he said. “I got the chance, and I decided to come to Canada, at Mount Allison.” In the future, Meraj plans to graduate, work in Canada, and pursue an MBA; however, “all these plans keep changing because of this COVID situation.”
“Personally for me, there was lots of ups and downs,” said Meraj. Things like food and the weather were initial challenges, but other factors impacted his experience as well. “From an academic perspective, it’s quite different,” he said. He highlighted the hands-on and practical experience he has gained at Mt. A. “Back in Bangladesh, it would be theory, theory, theory, and we don’t have the opportunity to research or things like field work,” he said. “Things here are a lot more straightforward and practical.”
Sophie Giese is a third-year classics student from Edmonton who came to Mt. A “to immerse [herself] in a small but warm community and experience life on the east coast of Canada.” She spent 13 years at a German bilingual school in Canada and went on an exchange trip to Germany. “The value that came from having this international education has been endless,” said Giese. “It has allowed me to deeply engage with the history, culture, and language of another country.”
Giese said that while there are challenges associated with international education—language barriers, cultural differences, teaching styles, work-life balance—she sees the benefits as holding greater weight. “Although these vast differences can seem threatening at first, studying in a foreign country and at a German bilingual school has been overwhelmingly positive in that it has made me more involved with international cultures and more open to new ideas and experiences in a foreign place,” she said.
Students and staff alike see a lot of value in international education. “It is important to provide Mt. A students with authentic opportunities for international and cultural exchange, at home and/or abroad, and in so doing build up their intercultural fluency and world-readiness,” said Walker and Maston.
“For me, it’s perspective of life,” said Pham. She explained that living in a new environment, “discovering new things in Canada, new culture,” and adapting to new challenges has broadened her personal and academic worldview. Meraj said international education has a lot of value for academic, professional, and personal contexts. “By the time I graduate, I’ll have a lot of experience and skills and knowledge, for academics but also for personal development and life,” he said.
“As a former international student, I have gained irreplaceable and valuable knowledge throughout my global education,” said Ae. “I am from Japan, and their education system is entirely different from what I experienced in Canada.” Her past experiences have helped inform her work at the International Centre and understand “cultural struggles, linguistic struggles, and academic struggles” students may experience.
Similarly, Meraj believes that the experiences of upper-year international students can help new students and identify where support is lacking. For instance, he wished there had been information sessions with current students and staff prior to his leaving Bangladesh to have a better understanding of academics, life, and culture in Canada and at Mt. A. “I think because of COVID they do that now, but in my time they did not,” he said. He would also like to see more research and work opportunities available for international students looking to gain Canadian work experience prior to graduation, as well as more programming to introduce international students not just to each other, but also to domestic students. He hopes this would help ease some of the social and cultural barriers. “Now that I’m in third year, I know pretty much what I need to know, where to go for resources and all that,” he said. “But as a newcomer, you definitely do not know. I can tell my stories to [incoming students] and they can know our stories and learn something from there.”
Pham’s advice to people considering international education is to be ready to adapt to new challenges, and to make sure to learn the local language “because it is important to your education in the future and to connect with the locals to know their culture.” Giese says students should remain open-minded throughout the process. “Going on an exchange is one of the best things you can do for your own personal and professional growth,” she said. “It will push you in ways that cannot be achieved by staying in your home country.” Meraj believes the most important thing when considering international education is to commit, even when there are uncertainties or nerves involved. “No one regrets it,” he said. “No one regrets their international education after graduation.”
The International Centre assists students in their international education, both at Mt. A and in study abroad programs, offered at 32 schools in 22 countries. They offer many programs for current international students and for people considering international education, with personal, social, cultural, financial, and academic support available. For more information on IEW and international education, visit the International Centre’s website (www.mta.ca/international) or follow them on Instagram (@mta.intl) and check out the Internationalization Strategy from Student Affairs.