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The future of internationalization is outside the classroom

When student affairs professionals play an active role in supporting international students, broader goals are easier to achieve.


The future of internationalization is outside the classroom. For many leaders serving our institutions in supporting the student experience and institutional internationalization efforts, this is not a bold statement. For others, this is a newer conversation. Regardless, the creation of an exceptional student experience with the integration of international students in and out of the classroom is critical to the evolution of our national internationalization goals.

At Ryerson University, the integrated support of international students across student affairs is alive and well. The international student support team’s work is blended directly with student engagement, mentoring for equity-deserving students (many from diasporic communities across the globe), learning support units and leadership development programs. Across student affairs, international student success is prioritized in the Career and Co-op Centre, Student Care Office, Consent Comes First unit and in Housing and Residence Life.

When the needs of international students are core for student affairs educators designing support programs, other students such as first-generation Canadians, newcomers to Canada and students with tethers to diasporic communities benefit greatly from the inclusion of their diverse lived experiences on our emerging global campuses. These experiences offer an opportunity for our diverse students paying domestic fees, who are not international students, to be supported, seen and acknowledged.

At the University of Toronto Mississauga, almost every international student has a domestic Canadian roommate. A recent research study of over 35,000 U of T Mississauga students conducted with the Academica Group found that students who lived in residence (even for one term) had higher GPAs, and were more likely to persist to graduation than their off-campus peers. The impact was much greater for international residents who were 14 per cent more likely to graduate than their off-campus peers. In our experience, few interventions in higher education have had such remarkable results.

Students expect to make friends, gain skills and belong to our campus communities. Results from U of T Mississauga’s  Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE) shows 56 per cent of students expect making new friends to be easy or very easy. The pandemic has shown us just how isolating university can be without essential social connections and relationships. Eighty-six per cent of students expect to interact with other students of a race or ethnicity other than their own often or very often during their university experience. Although much good work is underway, few of us have truly leveraged intercultural learning that is possible outside the classroom – in residence halls, student groups and intramurals. These connective experiences across cultures also complement and benefit academic work in classes, group work, labs and on-campus employment.

This collaborative and integrated approach across student affairs is dynamic, and requires a commitment to working together across disciplines and reporting structures. While working together across silos can be challenging, nothing is more inspirational than real stories from international students demonstrating how our integrated work impacts their lives. From students returning to residence for life milestones such as marriage engagements, to lifelong world-spanning friendships being made or to students visiting our offices on their first day of a professional job, these stories of continued connection to our institutions are a strong foundation on which to build the future of our internationalization efforts. We know our collaborative approach leads to students succeeding.

When student affairs professionals are an active part of integrated planning and execution of supporting international students, broader goals such as students being able to navigate the complex intersections of federal immigration policy, provincial educational policy, institutional planning, and academic curricula become more possible. Therefore, the next phase of internationalization efforts at our institutions should keep the whole student in mind. There are many ways to ensure the success of international students is realized, including:

  • Preparing, facilitating and developing environments where domestic and international students can learn and connect across experiences and cultures.
  • Including diverse lived experiences in continuing to innovate cultural intelligence competency development for all staff, students and faculty.
  • Sharing data across institutional functions (recruitment and enrolment data, financial aid, academic progress, employment rates) to create, assess and evaluate evidence-based support programs with a goal of continuously improving support for students.
  • Collaborate actively between faculty affairs and student affairs to meet international student needs in all aspects of their student life, as well as providing opportunities for students to earn curricular credits, while navigating and learning to succeed.
  • Build relationships with students to listen and hear their stories of challenge and success. Create safe ways to source narratives from student leaders and vulnerable students seeking support, as well as students who are not engaged in student success initiatives.

Collectively, across Canada, we can deliver on our promise to propel the dreams and vision of a successful future for international students choosing to study here. Through these efforts, we will make our campuses more global, and more inclusive for all students.

This column is coordinated through the Internationalization of Student Affairs Community of Practice of the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services (CACUSS). For comments or questions please contact [email protected].

Jen Gonzales is the executive director of student affairs at Ryerson University. Chad Nuttall is the director of student housing and residence life at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
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