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Selkirk students to host community dialogue regarding international learners

Selkirk College students are hosting a community conversation on March 29 to discuss the changing cultural landscape in the West Kootenay. Four of the members of the Peace Studies 101 class taking the lead on the event are: (L-R) Jaswinder Singh, Ilkay Cakirogullari, Kirsten Jansen and Ramanjeet Kaur.

Students in Selkirk College’s Peace & Justice Program are inviting the community to take part in an open dialogue to discuss the growth of international learners in the region with a goal of increased understanding.

Selkirk College is part of the province-wide upward trend in post-secondary international student enrolment. In the 2018-2019 academic year, the college welcomed more than 700 learners from across the world to its campuses. With the aim of creating a positive and solution-focused dialogue, students in the Peace Studies 101 class are asking the community to join in on a conversation at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Castlegar on March 29. 

“It may not be issues that are addressed openly in the public, but it’s definitely something that has been lingering in our communities for a bit,” says first-year Selkirk College student Kirsten Jansen, one of 31 students helping organize the event. “Having an open discussion will give the public an opportunity to find out what is happening and have their input.”

With the idea that open dialogue leads to better understanding, students aim to build relationships with the community. International students who are part of the Peace Studies 101 class will share their experience and those in attendance will be encouraged to bring forward questions.

“As an Indian student, I know what issues I face,” says 21-year-old Ramanjeet Kaur. “We want to address this openly so that everybody gets a better understanding and we can take action on issues.”

Kaur says challenges faced by international students include accommodation, employment, transportation and acceptance. Many of the issues are not unique to international learners, but due to the cultural differences, difficulties can become compounded. Students want to let those interested know a little bit more about themselves and how they navigate both challenges and opportunities.

“Before we come here, we do the research to find about the country and when we get here there is a lot of learning too,” says Kaur, who first arrived to Selkirk College in 2016. “I have so many Canadian friends now, but one of the issues for the community as a whole is that many people don’t know us. One of the goals of this evening will be to tell others where we come from and how we live our lives.”

Though she finds the West Kootenay an accepting community, Kaur has experienced some instances of negativity over the last couple of years. While riding the bus, she was speaking on the phone to her mother in her native language and was asked by another passenger to get off if she was not going to speak English.

Ilkay Cakirogullari is an international student of Turkish decent who grew up in Germany where multiple languages are spoke. The 28-year-old who started his Selkirk College experience in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Program, has also observed that language can cause a barrier to more open acceptance.

“The bigger the city and the more languages that are spoken, the less people care,” says Cakirogullari, who has lived in both Munich and Berlin. “Because this is a small community, there is a curiosity about what the person next to you is saying. If you speak in a different language, then people may have a tendency to get annoyed.”

By gathering the community in one place for a conversation, Cakirogullari feels these types of cultural barriers can be better understood by all involved.

“A good outcome would be if people start to speak about these topics instead of avoiding them,” says Cakirogullari, who is now in the School of University Arts & Sciences. “It’s never good to imply. An event like this is a good start because I understand that change to a community can seem threatening, so it’s important to have a discussion about these topics.”

Veteran Selkirk College instructor Randy Janzen teaches the Peace Studies 101 class. Though Selkirk College leadership regularly meet with community leaders about supporting international learners, Janzen is pleased to see his students’ journey down this avenue of grassroots conversation.

“In many ways, Canada is a very tolerant country, but the quickest way for that to break down is when people stop talking,” Janzen says. “Immigration and race are two topics on which people have very strong opinions, and yet at the same time, we seem to be very hesitant to talk about them, outside anonymous online forums.We need to develop safe spaces where we can come together to have important conversations, while at the same time, get to know each other.”

Everyone is invited to the community conversation and snacks with an international flavor will be served. The event runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, March 29 at St. Rita’s Church in Castlegar (513 7th Avenue).