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International students go to 'summer camp'

Cambrian College hosts orientation near Sundridge to help non-Canadian students get their bearings
From left, international students Clyandrea Beckford, Miweon Kim, Daniel Ahamefule, Jaspreet Singh and manager of international student support at Cambrian College, Kyllie Jansen, pose for a photo at the college International students office. They were part of a group that started their college career with a two-and-a-half week orientation at a summer camp in Sundridge to prepare for life in Canada. Missing from the photo is Donaldo Vasquez.

Cambrian College has seen a spike in international students. This year alone they are welcoming 400 from outside of Canada.

To help these students settle into the country they welcomed them the most Canadian way possible, by sending them to summer camp.

Last August, students were picked up at Pearson International Airport and brought in buses to Glen Bernard Camp in Sundridge for two-and-a-half weeks of orientation, as well as to get to know their fellow international students.

Kyllie Jansen, manager of international student support at Cambrian, said they've had international student orientation events before, but the college came up with the idea of sending students to a summer camp-style orientation in cottage country for a multitude of reasons.

“Our student population has increased and we have more international students,” she said. “We always had a one-on-one relationship with international students, picking them up at the airport, helping them set up bank accounts and things like that, but with the numbers we have now we can't do the one-on-one anymore.

“We wanted to make sure the students were supported and engaged. In order to be sustainable we needed to be able to do it in a bigger format.”

Topics covered included everything from how to dress appropriately for the cold, to more legal matters like how to apply for jobs, set up bank accounts and even find housing off-campus.

The program also helps reduce the number of students dropping out. Jansen explained unlike Canadian students, who have their tuition subsidized with grants, the international students have to pay for their entire tuition and books. That could mean up to $12,000 per student.

According to several students it was not only helpful, but made them feel very welcome and helped form bonds between their fellow international students no matter where they came from.

Donaldo Vasquez, from Honduras and studying human resources management, couldn't think of one bad aspect of the camp, or his experiences at Cambrian so far.

“I come from a country where we don't get a lot of these experiences; it's so beautiful here,” he said. “I met a lot of people, different cultures and it's helpful because you know a lot of people who go to the college.”

He couldn't name a specific activity he liked, saying just being with other people and sharing in activities was the highlight for him.

“When you share with people, you break the ice. We started getting more friendly with everybody here.”

It also proved helpful, he said. It prepared him for college life with staff explaining where he could find help.

For Clyandrea Beckford, from the Bahamas and studying human resources management, she said the camp was a great experience because being from the Caribbean, she isn't accustomed to the outdoors, camping or cabins.

“We shared a cabin and I really appreciated getting to know people from different backgrounds. My cabin was actually shared with three Indian girls and we quickly bonded,” she said. “We had a buddy system if we needed to use the bathroom. She'd wake me at 3 a.m. We'd get our flashlights. It was a great experience.”

Her reason for coming to Cambrian was the way students were welcomed and the steady communication between herself and recruiters, arranging the transition process all the way to airport pickup.

“The school makes sure we get there safe,” she said.

Daniel Ahamefule, from Nigeria, came to Cambrian to study pre-health studies, and said he was impressed with the care the college took to get them from the airport, the scenic drive to Sundridge and quickly made friends.

“I made a friend from (South) Korea. Meeting someone from another background, another country, it was good,” he said.

He said that the group was a big enough size that they got to know each other and it was a good start to learning about their fellow students and what was in store for them at college.

“You got to make friends from the camp first, so once I got to college I found those friends and they helped me through some difficult times,” he said. “I had applied to two other colleges, but Cambrian gives a lot of support to international students.”

Jaspreet Singh, from India and studying chemical engineering, said after the camp he has way more international friends than friends from his home country.

“I made friends from the Bahamas, even the U.S.A., and Australia, not just at the college, but the staff at the camp was very friendly,” he said. “The best thing was the campfire on the last night and telling us about the Aboriginal people and the songs. The food was also very good.”

Every night they had different styles to give everyone a taste of ethnic cuisine.

For many, the highlights of the camp were the cooking and sharing of meals, as well as taking in the vast natural beauty and wildlife. For one occasion, they received a dose of both.

“I was cooking fish and rice, adding bones to it and a bear came out of the woods and snatched the bones right in front of us,” said Singh, with a laugh.

The friendships went beyond good humour. Singh said he met a friend who helped him secure a place to live off-campus.

Miweon Kim, from South Korea, is at the college to study mining engineering technician. She said when she arrived she was a total stranger, but quickly made friends at the camp.

"The camp was very helpful in learning about the different services the international student support could provide,” she said.

She could not give a specific reason for choosing Cambrian, but said there was an attraction in her home country for the area.

“It looked like a peaceful place,” she said.

Jansen said that while they are waiting for more feedback, they are considering doing a similar kind of program next year. So far the feedback suggests it is helping students to adjust and feel welcome.

“One of the most important things we wanted to do was have the students develop their own sense of community and support networks,” Jansen said. “Cambrian College has a lot of great services, but students need to depend on each other and work with each other.”