International students voice opinions

Daniel Ogutu-Were, Sci ’07, raised concerns over working on campus at a forum on Monday.
Daniel Ogutu-Were, Sci ’07, raised concerns over working on campus at a forum on Monday.

International students’ voices came to the fore Monday night at a forum run by the AMS Ad hoc International Student Issues’ Committee.

Moderated by Shiva Mayer, VP (university affairs), the forum drew a gathering of about 25 students to discuss matters such as residence life, tuition fees and international student representation on campus.

Singapore native Grace Soo, ConEd ’08, who is a member of the committee, told the forum about the committee’s mandate.

“Ad hoc was formed to examine your issues, what you face and what you encounter as a Queen’s international student,” Soo said. “Right now, we are not heard as a student body.

“Tonight, the forum is meant to let you contribute your experience and what you would like to improve.”

Some students explained why they chose to attend the University and how they adjusted to its culture. Several students said an orientation held by the International Centre and organized specifically for international students was helpful in their transition.

Daniel Ogutu-were, Sci ’07 and an ad hoc committee member who comes from Uganda, said his adjustment to the University was all his own doing, and that the orientation process can be improved.

“There is no central place where international students [can] go and talk to each other,” he said. “I didn’t find that facility here.

“If it takes two years for me to adjust to the environment, then I think that’s a problem.” One student said that while his Applied Science Orientation Week showed him school spirit, the orientation provided by the International Centre was helpful in a different way.

“This [international student] orientation week touched more on issues like how you talk to people and what attitudes are,” he said. “Even simple things like that are helpful.”

Soo said that while the week was a good experience, she did not meet many undergraduate students, as many of them didn’t know about the separate program.

“If Queen’s is trying to attract more people, [the University] needs to emphasize international students’ events,” she said. “[There are other schools] that grab you the minute you get the acceptance letter.”

As well as discussing the classroom experience, Eddie Ho, Comm ’08, who comes from South Africa, raised the issue of life outside the classroom. He said the issue of identification has given him trouble while trying to attend social events at the University.

“I was at a business conference and almost couldn’t get into a wine and cheese,” Ho said. “My ID is in a different format and the other alternative is to bring your passport.”

Ho said he feels using a passport to get into social events is too risky and that international students should be informed of alternative forms of ID such as the LCBO card, during Orientation Week.

Mayer raised the subject of finances, which drew several responses regarding scholarships and job opportunities to enable students to pay for tuition.

According to the University registrar’s website, undergraduate international arts and science students pay almost three times as much as domestic students in tuition.

“[Domestic] students with averages below me got entrance scholarships,” Ho said. “When I entered second year with a high average and others lost their scholarships, I still never got a scholarship.”

Ho said scholarships should be equalized in proportion to the amount of domestic and international students attending the University.

“This year I have two jobs,” he said. “And I’m still looking for opportunities to ease my parents’ financial burden.”

Ogutu-were said most international students will have a job while attending university. He said education without employment is not a true education, because it does not provide practical experience in a relevant field.

“The point of coming overseas for education is because you get superior training,” he said. “If you don’t get superior work experience, then it won’t help you.

“Life is more than the classroom, and Queen’s isn’t giving me that.”

International students have the option of participating in work-study programs, but many students said this opportunity is not enough.

Ho said he doesn’t understand why he can work no more than 200 hours within the program.

Students also said they found limited opportunities for internships on and off campus.

“We are faced with a dilemma,” Ogutu-were said. “We can’t compete with Canadians who have been working for a few summers.”

At a town-hall meeting held in Common Ground for students earlier in the day, Principal Karen Hitchcock heard similar concerns.

One student said high international fees can make attending Queen’s impossible for students outside of Canada.

“How are we going to keep tuition fees accessible for international students, as well as domestic students?” he asked.

Hitchcock agreed that international fees do pose a problem to implementing her vision of becoming a more globally-focused university. However, she said she sees the provincial government as primarily responsible for making up the financial difference.

“We need to all work together on that,” Hitchcock said. “Right now, the province doesn’t pay a penny for an undergraduate [international] student. Zero.”

She said becoming an international university will involve both lobbying the government for funds and looking into current finances for extra resources.

“All I can say is that we’re looking to find money,” Hitchcock said. “We will need to reallocate from one thing to another.” The focus of the international student forum later shifted to how the University should market itself to international students.

“Queen’s keeps saying it wants to go global,” Soo said. “What better way than to have international students at Queen’s, instead of saying we want to be an international university?”

Ho said he’s not sure what perception businesses have of international students. “Perhaps Queen’s can help in regards to marketing international students,” he said.

Ho suggested the University advertise to domestic companies that an international student’s degree is just as good as any domestic student’s degree. Soo agreed.

“A good idea is to emphasize the good things international students can bring to the employer,” she said.

When one student asked the committee how many international students stay in Canada after they graduate, the group discussed a lack of available data on international students.

“Queen’s hasn’t done enough to survey into the international population to find out how they’re doing financially,” Ho said. “More representation is needed ... to allow international students’ needs to be heard.”

Ho suggested that a new commission of international student affairs be created to gives these students a voice.

“It would be a great idea if international students could look up to a student leader who is able to sit in general assemblies … and voice international opinion, as would any other student body in a regular process,” Ho said. “We want to be treated equal.”

Arun Parkash, a fifth-year ArtSci student, agreed. He said a leader could engineer mentorship programs with peer advisers who have faced similar experiences and challenges.

“When tuition rises for domestic students, everyone goes crazy and student leaders lobby,” Parkash said.

Ogutu-were agreed that international students don’t see a proportional reaction.

“The AMS has done a great job,” he said. “But I feel that international students in general feel that we don’t get as strong a backing as we ought to get.”

He added that he believes there is strength in numbers and students need an international voice to pursue issues seriously, and to approach the relevant authorities and administration.

Stylianos Manaras, a Masters student in Applied Science who hails from Greece, said he felt the forum only discussed general topics, and didn’t make any practical decisions about how things can be changed.

Soo responded to Marnaras by saying that the forum was intended to understand the problems first.

“At first, we thought we should solve all the problems, but we realized we would be trying to do too much and end up doing nothing at all,” she said. “We want to get this step right before we move on and tackle the problems.”

She said the committee will take the issues raised at the forum to AMS assembly. She added that she hopes future meetings will provide an opportunity to deal with suggestions on a concrete basis.

“Talk to your friends, to your professors and anyone who will listen,” Soo said. “Talk about international students’ issues and hopefully we will be able to form a permanent voice and representation [at the University].”

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