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Helping bridge the gap between cultures

[QBridge]
Rasha Fahim was one of the instructors of the QBridge Pathway program at the Queen’s School of English this summer where she taught Severus (Chongxi) Gao, a first-year student at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. (University Communications)

Making the switch to university life can be difficult and is only compounded when you are also trying to find your way in a new community and culture.

[Queen's in the World]
[Queen's in the World]

These are the challenges for many international students. However, with the support of a number of programs offered by Queen’s University and the Queen’s School of English (QSoE), that transition is being made easier.

One such program is QBridge, which acts as a pathway or a bridge to undergraduate studies and delivers academic English language training to international students before they begin their studies at Queen’s.

The QBridge Pathway initially began in 2010 as an intensive eight-week English language summer program for conditionally accepted international students. This year, the QBridge Pathway was expanded to include the English for Academic Purposes Program, which allows students with conditional acceptance to spend the Fall and Winter terms preparing for undergraduate studies. The first group of QBridge students joined the English for Academic Purposes Program in September 2015 and are currently preparing for their 2016 Queen’s undergraduate studies.

In the QBridge Accelerated, the students, who have already been accepted to an undergraduate program at Queen’s, listen to lectures, write essays, make presentations and take part in debates. By the program’s end, students are meant to be proficient enough in their academic and language skills to be able to succeed in their first year of university.

This is not an introductory course.

“It’s very intense but to get into the QBridge Accelerated program these students have a certain English-language proficiency that’s higher than in other programs,” says Rasha Fahim, an ESL instructor at QSoE who is also pursuing her Masters of Education. “So you’re dealing with more proficient students and they do have the acceptance into their undergraduate programs so they have that motivation, they want those skills.”

Another aspect of the QBridge Pathway is that it helps the students settle into their new life, not only in the classrooms and lecture halls of Queen’s but in Kingston and Canada as well. While we may think of the community as being a friendly, convenient place, for many new arrivals they are being introduced to a very different way of life, from cultural norms to simply getting around the city.

“I think it eases the students into their university life because it takes them a while to get adjusted to Canada, to Kingston, just being able to take the bus, moving back and forth, getting used to the culture here a little bit,” says Ms. Fahim. “That’s important because that is part of their well-being too.”

From a student perspective, Severus (Chongxi) Gao, now in his first-year of studies at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, says the program was valuable in preparing him for the next stage.

Initially, he wasn’t all that interested in leaving his home in Shandong, China, early to attend QBridge, he says. However, his father pointed out that it was about more than making the transition to post-secondary education.

“So I went,” Mr. Gao says. “That was probably the wisest decision I ever made. It helped me a lot.”

He says that a key to the QBridge Pathway is that it’s not about polishing his English skills, but about raising these to an academic level while also learning about the expectations of a Canadian university. Halfway through his first semester at Queen’s he is already putting much of what he learned to work.

“For the QBridge students we have the ability to write a proper lab report to get a good mark. We know what to say in reports, we know what to say in emails, we know how to use English properly in different situations,” he says.  “It’s also about accepting another culture, making yourself more comfortable in it and trying to gain something from it. That’s what QBridge helps us to do.”

This year’s QBridge Accelerated program attracted 49 students, tripling the number from the year before. To learn more about the QBridge Pathway visit the Queen’s School of English website.