Studying abroad: Life on exchange

While the majority of students are moving into their residences at Wilfrid Laurier University this week, last week marked the arrival of the students from the international community.

From Aug. 30 to Sept. 4, International Orientation Week helped international students find their bearings, move into their residences and provided them with everything from workshops to a trip to Niagara Falls.

“It makes them aware of all the resources available on campus,” explained former International Students’ Association president and international student Tk Mawuli Azaglo, from Ghana. “It gives them information about banking and shopping and all this stuff.”

When Azaglo arrived at Laurier in 2006 there was barely any support from the university. However, with new initiatives from Laurier International through feedback from past students, there have been some radical changes to the preparation of both international students and exchange students.

Along with International Orientation Week, the Laurier International Friendship Extension program (LIFE) partners current Laurier students with incoming international students to provide a certain level of mentorship.

The international community at Laurier is broken down into two distinct groups. Exchange students, like Eugenio Gomez-Chico and Adriana de la Torre Olazábal, attend Laurier for a semester or two. While Azaglo and others like Vreshin Nagarajan of Dubai begin and complete their degrees at Laurier as international students.

Every student’s reason for attending Laurier varies, whether they are coming from Ontario or abroad, though there are many consistencies between how international students view not only Canada, but our campus as well.

“For me in particular it’s the multiculturalism of Canada,” said de la Torre Olazabal, “Because I like going around the trip and seeing Muslim people, people from Asia, people from different parts of the world, it’s really nice.”

“Just the atmosphere was really good and then when we were told nobody steps on the Hawk it’s really good because it’s a type of respect, a sense of community and that’s important in sports and life,” said Andranik Avdalyan, an exchange student from Moscow State University.

Not only do these new visiting and international students have a positive perspective on life in Canada and on campus, they are optimistic about trying a new type of education system.

Among the many differences between our educational system and those abroad, Avdalyan will still have to complete a semester’s worth of 17 exams when he returns to Moscow, while Gomez-Chico anticipates having to work harder throughout the semester because his grades are no longer determined by one all-encompassing final exam. Dhruv Agarwal, an international student attending his first year at Laurier, is excited about the extra-curricular activities he said are often lacking in post-secondary institutions in his native India.

Despite traveling so far and attending a new institution as a freshman, Agarwal has the same worries as many first-years.

“I am [nervous] considering all my life I’ve lived with my parents now suddenly I am going to university. It’s very far from India, living alone, doing your own work,” he explained. “It’s a new life and I’m kind of excited about it rather than being nervous.”

In terms of guidance outside of the university, de la Torre Olazábal credits her parents with being very supportive of her semester abroad.

“My parents wanted me to know a different culture, different country, to be independent from them and have a new experience,” she said.

Azaglo explained that international students bring a certain culture to the campus and although international students learn about Canadian culture and experience Laurier’s campus, there is plenty to learn from these visitors.

“Based on our experience we can enlighten people’s perspectives about other countries and being different.”

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