For international student Lan Le Diem Tran, meeting new people and making friends at Vancouver Island University was relatively straightforward.
“I was surprised at how easy it was to make friends regardless of the big overall student population,” she told the News Bulletin. “The different cultures at VIU are very diverse, and if someone wants to learn about another culture without having to board an airplane, VIU is the hub.”
Tran, originally from Vietnam, is a second-year student in the sustainable leisure management program. She said the school’s culturally diverse range of students made it easy for her to connect with other international students.
“In my experience, the more international a university is, the easier it is to find people who are also sharing similar experiences to me,” she said.
While making friends with other international students and students in her program was easy for Tran, getting to know Canadian students from other programs was a bit trickier.
“Canadians are very polite and friendly, but to develop a deeper friendship, sometimes it’s hard because I may not be interested in the same social activities as them,” she said.
It’s that kind of interaction that the Vancouver Island University is aiming to encourage more of and is the basis World VIU Days, which runs until Friday (Nov. 4) and features various arts, crafts, live music events and various cultural-themed symposiums.
Mackenzie Sillem, the school’s international student retention co-ordinator, said although the school is loaded with diversity, it can still be difficult for students from different cultures to meet and interact outside of their programs or classes.
“Even though there is tons of diversity on campus, people from different cultural backgrounds aren’t necessarily getting to know each other in a more deep way,” she said.
One of the World Day activities saw the school’s English second language students meet up with packaging design students for an interactive class.
“The package design students got to practise pitching their new package design to an ESL audience and also an audience that has a different cultural background than a standard mainstream Canadian,” Sillem said. “The packing students got a chance to figure out what works for a difference audience and the ESL students got a chance to practise their language skills and in the meantime they actually start to develop relationships with each other.”
Sillem said that kind of interaction can have a lasting impact on all students.
“When they see each other walking through campus they can actually say hi and have a human connection that they may have never said hello to before,” she said.
In addition to making bringing students together, the university has just created the International Refugee Newcomer Award, which will give refugee students up to $5,000.
Darrell Harvey, the school’s international projects and internationalization co-ordinator, said refugees who have arrived in Canada within the last five years are eligible for the award, adding as an academic institution it is important to have successful citizens.
“We have folks from all around the world on campus,” Harvey said. “If we can support those students and help them succeed and integrate into Canadian culture then we have done our job.”
For more information about World VIU Days or the Refugee Newcomer Award, please visit www.viu.ca.