In 1967, the world was a much bigger place. It was also when the first students enrolled in Niagara’s community college — eager students looking to graduate with skills to employ them in promising jobs throughout the region.
Fast forward more than four decades later and the world is a much smaller place; it’s now just one big region with almost every business dealing with international issues on some level. Businesses today look to hire workers with skills to meet these growing needs. It needs workers to be world ready.
Being world ready is considered a critical and advantageous skill for the next generation of innovative graduates at a college that has globalized its name: Niagara College Canada.
Of the 10,000 students who attend Niagara College Canada, 1,700 of them now come from distant parts of the world; India, Korea, Africa, and China. They come here for a Western education. The greatest advantage of a culturally rich campus is the new global learning that takes place when international students influence a local population.
For foreign students who come to school in Niagara, they must live in a culture they have never known. This adaptation instills a broader perspective of the world; it teaches them to function and work in diverse environments, but it also teaches them tolerance, trust, and independence, and gives these students skills that are globally transferable and highly valuable in a global work environment.
The international department at Niagara College actively recruits these students from over 70 countries who, in turn, live in Niagara, making a positive economic impact to the region. Some of them stay on working visas, making further contributions, and others open small businesses like Niagara College graduate Peter Peng, who went on to open East Sushi Restaurant on King Street in St. Catharines and now Wind Restaurant next to it. For foreign students coming to Niagara College, it’s a positive environment where they can see and be exposed to, in a very proud way, their own history and culture.
For domestic students, it’s about engaging in and learning about other cultures, attitudes, languages, and values. College professors draw out these differences by calling on the international students to bring a global perspective into the classroom. College curriculum in each program from police studies to culinary sciences contains a large component of multi-cultural competencies to internationalize education across the board. For Niagara students, it’s about learning other cultures and languages, and being exposed to the inter-relationships —economically, politically, and culturally— that influence our activities in Canada.
“We’re becoming a more multicultural society, so we’re preparing our students to be world ready and work ready,” says Sean Coote, Director of Niagara College’s International Department. “No industry exists today without some kind of international link, so employers are looking for students who have international sensibilities. If you can work inter-culturally, you become more employable, your skills more valuable.”
While drawing on international students to build global understanding in Niagara is a good thing, Sean believes you can’t actually get into the skin of a different culture until you travel there.
Kirsten Kennedy is one of those students who took advantage of an international opportunity. Kirsten started her studies in the Human Resources Management Program in the fall of 2011. In her second year, she became involved in a Brazilian project called Mulheres Mil (1,000 Women). The long-term project in partnership with a few Brazilian schools retrains disadvantaged women in Brazil for gainful employment.
The project involved working both in Niagara and Brazil. In Niagara, Kirsten was part of a research team. Through her project work, she learned all about cultural issues in another country and the dynamics of trying to work within them. When she graduated in April 2012, Kirsten went to Brazil on a sponsored six-month assignment to work with the Brazilian research team. “It was an amazing learning experience!” says Kirsten, “I feel like I’ve learned to be more adaptable and compassionate because I’ve seen things that I’d never have seen in Canada.” For Kristen, it also fueled her passion for travelling, giving her new ideas for future employment.
The global view of international education is encouraging. Some claim if we’re going to overcome many of the challenges we have in our world today, to create a secure, growing, and progressive economy in our country, it’s going to have to be done by teaching students through international education and that includes first-hand experiences.
Full-time and continuing education students at Niagara College Canada interested in opportunities abroad need only approach the International Department for information on internships, co-ops, and field study programs. They offer opportunities such as interning abroad, globalizing a co-op semester, undertaking projects in another country, international student exchanges, volunteering overseas, and completing a degree at a foreign school abroad. Many of these opportunities offer academic credits, and all of them build better resumes.
In a global marketplace, employers are looking to hire people who can meet their new international challenges. They’re looking for candidates with cultural experiences and international understanding. Students who have studied abroad are believed to have a greater sense of independence, maturity, flexibility, and cross-cultural communication skills.
In 2011, a group of three students in the Broadcasting, Radio & TV program approached their professor with an idea to film a documentary in Japan. With the support of the college, they went to Japan and successfully completed their project. There are many independent student projects throughout the college that are multi-country.
But travel can be expensive and a challenge for many students. The staff in the International Department will sit down with students and help them navigate their way through the possible projects and costs.
For example, a study abroad project may cost $2,500. Niagara College offers a $500 scholarship that brings that number down to $2,000. Add other possibilities such as billeting to save on accommodation and other in-kind services that reduce the bottom line further. Finally, students can fundraise for the remainder of their needs, bringing project costs down to a level that would allow many more students to travel than ever thought possible.
The International Department at Niagara College works with groups or individual students to ensure their study abroad goals can be realized. “The best way to experience another culture is to be there,” says Sean. “They (students) get a greater appreciation for what things mean, not just what they’ve read and the multiplier effect happens. They start to realize why things are the way they are, and how interconnected societal issues are both internally and globally [sic].”
Every November, Niagara College campuses, both Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake become living global campuses when they participate in International Week, a country-wide celebration of international education. Throughout the hallways, there will be ethnic food tastings, music, dances, and cultural activities all organized by international students, faculty, and staff. While it’s not open to the general public, International Week brings all students together to learn about each other in many fun ways and “food is the common connector that opens minds,” says Sean, “and it leads to more learning.”
As our region becomes more diverse and we have greater opportunities to take advantage of the cultural contributions of a more diverse range of populations, it’s terrific to see our community college viewing the global community as its classroom and being on the cutting-edge of developing opportunities and curricula that bring a global culture into the Niagara community.
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer and international award-winning author. You can reach Lynn for questions or comments through www.lynnogryzlo.com.