Embracing Intercultural Awareness with International Education
by Sarah Edgar, SCSBC Interim International Student Program Coordinator ◊
Our schools create genuine opportunities and spaces for students to feel like they belong in community. We value the cross-denominational and generational approaches as our students grow both in knowledge and in Christ. Many of our SCSBC schools have healthy international programs based on long- and short-term programming for secondary students. Most of these students are new to the faith and the Canadian learning environment. Some of our international programs’ founding principles focus on how we demonstrate and support one another as servant-workers, earth-keepers, and beauty-creators in helping students strengthen their faith and follow His Word. Over the years, several international students have come to love and serve the Lord through our programs. But what if there are even more opportunities for depth and value within our programs? By expanding the cultural representation in our schools, we will enrich the experiences of all learners.
Several of our schools welcome and support new families as they integrate into our local communities, not just as extensions of the students in our schools. The face of international education is changing. Covid forced a pause for institutions as markets halted and families reassessed the viability and safety of sending their children abroad alone. This change partners with an ever-increasing labour shortage across the nation. As recently reported, Canada’s population grew by over one million this past year, a new record. British Columbia had an influx of working professionals either seeking employment or continuing their studies at post-secondary institutions. New families are moving here with permits ranging from six months to four years. Families are encouraged when they find a supportive network to rely on for guidance and insight, both in our schools and surrounding communities. It is an exhaustive and often complicated process navigating with agents, schools, employers, banking institutions, and government organizations. A supportive community can make all the difference. Many look for small independent Christian schools across the province as they value the honesty, faith, care, and love we openly offer. As new parents find friendships in local churches, transfers to our schools become a natural progression. Language and cultural support have taken on a more holistic direction to help these families. The ways our schools approach international education has shifted since the pandemic, forcing many of us to review the vision and function of our schools’ programs.
Our international coordinators share great pride when discussing the vibrant ways our Christian school communities support these new students and families. Some schools offer evening Alpha programs, while others host weekly Bible studies for international teens. Some lend support for parents and children with Mandarin and Korean counselling services, while others offer international parents afternoon tea once a month. Some schools have broadened their global networks even further with collaborative sister-school exchange programs, demonstrating the importance of a focused approach. We value deeper connections and build cultural awareness by organizing groups for the student body, such as ambassadors clubs for language exchanges or global lunch activities for enjoying new cuisine. It is important to find different ways we can share common ideals, knowledge, and norms while celebrating the beauty in the differences. These activities and programs encourage our international and domestic students to learn about the value of diversity together.
We strengthen our goals in community-building when we include the perspectives and voices of our international families. When we view our international programs as intercultural opportunities, we create richer educational experiences. Therefore, to reflect the cultural diversity in our schools, we must extend deeper transformative opportunities outside our classrooms and halls to further inspire new ways of interacting with one another.