Meeting Needs to Transform Lives
by Amber Watson, SCSBC International Student Program Coordinator ◊
I used to believe that the greatest need of most international students was to learn English so that they could find success in the Canadian education system. Over the years, I have come to understand that there are often deeper, fundamental needs that must be addressed for a student to thrive. International students sometimes arrive in our Christian schools with baggage we are unaware of such as a history of academic failure, dysfunctional family relationships, or deep emotional pain. If we open our doors to international students but do nothing to support their complex needs, are we just setting them up for failure? By striving to meet our international students where they are at and provide the support they need, we have the opportunity to transform lives and impact culture.
International students sometimes struggle academically because their basic physical and emotional needs are not being met. For example, a student who slept poorly won’t be fully engaged in their Science lesson the next day, and a student who has deep insecurities due to years of bullying will likely struggle with giving a presentation. To address these types of needs, schools could provide training and policies in place for homestay families and have designated people in the school who have the expertise and passion to advise students. Schools may also want to consider facilitating a student mentorship program, offering seminars on issues of concern, or having counselling available in their first language.
“By striving to meet our international students where they are at and provide the support they need, we have the opportunity to transform lives and impact culture.”
Many international students struggle with loneliness and feel that making friends with Canadians is very challenging. The cultural differences often seem insurmountable to them, but there are many initiatives that schools can take to try to create points of connection between international students and the larger school community.
Here are a few ideas:
- A “Buddy Program” that matches up new international students with hospitable Canadian students. Encourage them to sit together in class and spend lunch breaks together for the first few weeks of school.
- Peer Tutors or Conversation Partners. Canadian students can help international students develop their English and academic skills and build relationships by working together.
- Volunteer opportunities that allow students of different ethnic backgrounds to serve the community together.
- Plan cultural outings or fun activities that encourage students to meet new people. For example, organize an overnight retreat to a local camp where all the activity and cabin groups include students of various ethnic backgrounds. Plan hot lunch at school where each table must include half international and half Canadian students and provide a game or list of conversation topics for each table.
- Find opportunities for international students to share their culture with the school community. They could do a presentation in chapel, plan a Lunar New Year party, or start a language club where they teach Canadian students their first language.
“Our schools may just be a short stop in the journey of an international student, but their experience in our community has the potential to change the direction of their entire life.”
International students have deep spiritual needs. What they hear in Bible classes and chapel often raises questions for those who have a different religion or worldview, so it is important to create opportunities and an environment where they feel safe to explore those questions. Some schools have found that offering a Bible Study, mentorship group, or Alpha program is an effective way to share the gospel and disciple international students. However, the most vital aspect to fostering spiritual growth is relationships. When students can see that individuals in the school community care about them and their needs, they are more open spiritually. Discipleship occurs in relationships where trust has been established with teachers, homestay families, and other staff members. Our schools may just be a short stop in the journey of an international student, but their experience in our community has the potential to change the direction of their entire life.