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Canadian students should welcome, not ignore their international peers

Besides healthcare, the cultural mosaic is perhaps Canada’s most celebrated concept. Universities nationwide, including Dalhousie, embrace this concept in their approach toward international students. But, as many students from abroad realize, entrenched tolerance doesn’t equate to effusive friendliness.

Despite official multiculturalism, or perhaps because of it, international students studying in Canada are often unofficially segregated from Canadian students.

The university does what it can to make the transition easier. The staff, usually working adults – not other likeminded 20-something students – can only do so much to enable a healthy integration into Haligonian culture. They can layout the welcome mat and offer help with red tape; after that, its up to other students. This, friends, is where I think we could use a lesson in some Rush Hour-esque camaraderie.

For Canadian students, it’s an overlooked opportunity and an underappreciated privilege to show international students a good Canadian time. The university won’t, and probably can’t, teach appropriate Dome attire or advertise the next retro night at the Paragon. That’s where your friendly neighbourhood domestic student should be able to offer some advice.

Canadians seem to focus on making international students feel comfortable instead of welcome. We don’t stare, but we don’t greet either. The emphasis on comfort comes at the expense of making international students a more valued part of the institution and a welcomed addition to our social circles.

We herald the fact that international students can study here and retain as many cultural practices as possible as Canada’s defining appeal. How much are both Canadian and international students losing by adopting this so-called “Canadian way” (namely, the encouragement of international students to do their own thing) in a university setting, where the sharing of ideas and experiences is essential to everyone’s learning?

The great thing about most Canadian universities is that you don’t have to go on an exchange to hear perspectives of people fresh from Germany, the Caribbean, China or the Middle East – they are all over campus.

We are too willing to disregard the problems with watching international students come here, find each other and recreate their home experiences in isolation.

Travelling to a foreign country is an awkward and challenging experience, but that’s a large part of the appeal and the benefit. It’s tough, dreadful at times, but it’s character building.

We should help international students embrace the awkwardness of being in a new country. We should support them through it, rather than simply passively relying on the tolerance built on our common support of a near 30-year-old document.

The idea of a cultural mosaic, ingrained in this generation since primary school, makes it easy for Canadian students to stand pat while international students form their own cliques, societies and clubs, then spend the rest of their experiences segregated in many ways from Canadian students.

When I was overseas, people were constantly reaching out to me, inviting me to their homes and eagerly taking my hand in friendship. Many people had upsetting ulterior motives, but a lot of people were just being friendly to an awkward Asian guy out of his element.

They showed me how things were done in their country, scolded me for inappropriate behaviour and encouraged me to enjoy their way of life. They lacked a charter, but nearly compensated in charisma.
Interacting with foreign peers is my favourite part of travelling, and it’s a shame people coming here rarely get the sort of embrace Canadians get in other parts of the world.

Tolerance is no substitute for hospitality.

Indoctrinated with the infallibility of the cultural mosaic, we are over eager to let international students go their own way, do their own thing, on their own. While the ideology is in place to enable international students to recreate their lifestyles, that doesn’t mean we should sit back and neglect genuine engagement with our international peers.

Multiculturalism is an invaluable aspect of the Canadian way, but its value is lost when it leads to isolated communities. Dalhousie seems to be a microcosm of this Canadian paradox, one that can be overcome by an outreached hand.

David Kumagai writes for The Gazette on international student issues. He is a third-year journalism student at the University of King’s College.

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