by Meredith Dault
November 4, 2010
There's no question that pursuing graduate work can be challenging. There's the heavy workload, the presentations, and the delicate supervisory relationship, not to mention the challenge of (in most cases) navigating a new campus in a new city. But if you're an international student, those challenges can be amplified by having to manage them in a new country, and (often) in a new language.
That's where the Queen's University International Centre (QUIC) comes in. Tucked away at the end of a hall in the John Deutsch University Centre, QUIC provides a home-away-from-home for international students. From providing the answers to questions on everything from income tax to immigration, to giving friends a place to gather over a game of ping pong (the table sees a lot of action over the course of a day), QUIC's headquarters are busy and vibrant.
Assistant Director Susan Anderson, who has been with QUIC since 1978, estimates that there are about 1,100 international students from between 90 and 100 countries at Queen's in a given year -- and about half of them are graduate students. She says that QUIC begins providing support almost as soon as students first arrive on campus. It starts with a basic orientation program (developed in collaboration with the School of Graduate Studies, the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS), and the university's cross-cultural counsellor, Arunima Khanna) and then manifests itself in all sorts of other important ways over the course of the academic year.
Though Anderson says incoming students are bombarded with information when they first arrive on campus, QUIC decided to take a more personal, grounding tact with their orientation program. "People can only absorb so much information by being talked at!" she says with a smile. That's why the QUIC program walks students through the kinds of situations they might encounter while at graduate school, leaving lots of room for small group discussion and problem solving. "The first task is to figure out what's going on in the situation, understanding that there may be different cultural interpretations for each one," says Anderson. The students are then asked to describe how they would handle the same situation if it occurred at their home institution. "That way they get to share their expertise. The assumption on our part is that (these students) are really successful -- that's how they got here. They have solid skills that worked for them in their cultural context, and we want them to feel solidly grounded in that."
Anderson says that one of QUIC's most important roles is in helping international students navigate the tricky questions that frequently arise around immigration -- from managing study permits, to figuring out what the options are for those students who may want to stay in Canada. "We hold advising hours every afternoon, and I would say that more than 85 per cent of what we talk about is immigration," says Anderson, explaining that the governments rules around immigration change often. "It's hard stuff for someone to sort out on their own."
Though QUIC has a handful of paid staff, the Centre relies on help from nearly 200 volunteers (both Queen's students and community members) to run its many programs -- from a popular one-on-one English conversation program (that program alone depends on about 100 volunteers), to a program that helps students grapple with their income tax returns. Another important initiative is a community hosting program that pairs newly arrived international students with more seasoned Kingstonians. "We have community hosts who take people into their homes when students don't have a place to live when they first arrive," explains Anderson. "They provide a safe, welcoming place for a student to rest while they look for longer term housing."
In fact, Anderson says it's the volunteers who help make QUIC what it is. "It's definitely the thing that makes me most excited about working here," she says, "it terms of building a community, it's definitely the generosity of volunteers." Ultimately, Anderson says it's program like the community hosting program and the one-on-one language programs that are so vital to international student success. "After all," she says with the same warm smile that has helped so many international students over the years, "the rest of the university has a responsibility to helping people settle in."