The idea of becoming an international student is an attractive concept for both the school board and students. It enriches the school district financially and culturally. For students coming from overseas, it allows them to learn first hand about other cultures and customs, to create life long friendship across culture, and to gain new perspective on Canada and the world.
It gives students an understanding on how tightly connected the people and countries of the world are to each other. It opens young minds to the importance of understanding other languages and other cultures particularly with respect to career and personal opportunities.
But the main reason, international students are coming to us, is to benefit from a Canadian education.
I have not kept up with the statistics lately but it seems to me the number of international students has increased. In our school alone, the international population has increased by 25% over the last year.
These young students left the stabilities of home, family and friends, and for the first time are attempting to independently navigate life’s ups and downs. They live with a “homestay family” and, if they are lucky, it is a fit and everything goes well. Many are thriving; they embrace the many challenges, and manage to integrate the Canadian way of life. They adapt to Canadian customs and are proud to say so. But for some it is a different story.
They struggle with a set of unique challenges, such as a significant cultural shock, and an unfamiliar and uncomfortable social support system. Intrapersonal issues are also imbedded within this process. These range from difficulties with loneliness, anxiety, depression, and homesickness. The difference in language and cultural norms, I am convinced, may also impede them from seeking and receiving help.
I understand, or at least I think I do, the unique challenges for multicultural counselling. But, how am I supposed to help a distraught young international teen? I can be as Rogerian as I can, offer as much TLC as I can, but the language barrier is often too great an obstacle. I find myself limited in how to provide immediate help. I refer out and try to involve them with the community. Often these students come to my office referred by a teacher or a vice-principal. The hope is that I can provide some relief and help the teen. Most of the time, I feel like I’m put in a position of having to ‘trust’ outside supports that I am unfamiliar with and that I’m unfortunately making a leap of faith with an unknown commodity with a very at risk and unsupported student. This is a challenge for me as I realize my limitations regarding the level of multicultural competencies.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA