A Community of Care
by Amber Watson, SCSBC International Student Program Coordinator ◊
Though many schools are currently challenged by reduced international student numbers, this may be an opportunity to consider how our international programs reflect our values and the impact our communities can have on students and families from abroad. What is at the heart of Christian education for international students in these challenging times?
Over the past two years, international students have faced many obstacles in their quest for education abroad: border closures, delayed processing of essential travel documents, cancelled flights, quarantines, covid tests, and vaccine requirements. Students who have weathered all of these challenges and now study here in Canada are faced with the general fear and anxiety of being far from home during a pandemic. Natural disasters that have devastated our province recently have only added to this stress.
Traditionally, many families choose Canada as a top study destination because our country is known throughout the world as being a welcoming and safe place. When travelling abroad to promote schools, I have often spoken with prospective parents about how safe it is to live in BC. However, as our province has faced one state of emergency after another, I have considered whether we can justifiably continue to promote BC as a “safe place.” As staff members in Christian schools, we are prudent in providing a secure school environment and home life for international students. We often go beyond the minimal safety protocols required. Nevertheless, we are unable to guarantee our own safety or the protection of those under our care.
Despite this limitation, there is much that we can do to establish security for our students. We can create an environment where they feel comfortable talking to teachers, International Program staff, and school counsellors about their struggles. We can ensure that students are placed with homestay families who care for them as their own, giving them a sense of belonging. For international students living here with their parents, we can help their families build relationships within the school and local church communities, so they know they are not alone when difficult circumstances arise.
As our world has changed, creating this atmosphere of security and community for our international families has become increasingly important. The care, compassion, and empathy our schools demonstrate could have a significant impact on the future of our International Student Programs. Students and parents who feel cared for are more likely to stay and tell others about their positive experiences. Word-of-mouth is the best promoter in these times when many are hesitant to engage in travel and study abroad.
- Many schools currently have their lowest number of international students in many years. While this is a challenge, it is also an opportunity: a chance to look at how we deliver our programs, what we value, and how our communities can serve and impact those from other cultures as well as be impacted by them. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it is wise for schools to consider the following:
- Do we desire an ethnically diverse program or hope to serve a specific demographic? A diverse program may require accepting students with lower English skills or offering scholarships to those from less affluent nations.
- Is our mission in Christian education to provide a Christ-centered education for the global Christian family or to share Christ with the unreached? Can we do both well?
- Do we believe it is our role and are we equipped to support diverse needs in English acquisition, academics, and/or mental health?
- Do we desire to facilitate short-term programs where students receive a brief immersion in Christian education and Canadian culture or to focus on long-term students whose lives we build into until their graduation and beyond? Can we effectively do both?
While international student numbers may have decreased, the stories of transformed lives are still being written. A family who is persecuted for their faith in their home country receives a Christian education for their children here. A student who has been bullied his whole life finds a sense of belonging. A student grows in her understanding of what it means to follow Christ, thus impacting the decisions she makes for her future. God is actively working in and through our International Student Programs, and these challenging times give us the opportunity to reflect the heart of Christian education to those He brings to our schools.