News and Events

Students make cultural connections

December 6, 2012

For Canadian kids, dressing up once a year and wandering through the cold October night asking strangers for candy is just part of growing up, but for international students at Medicine Hat College, the experience is a pretty big deal.

What started out as an assignment for students in the Global Tourism and Marketing (GTAM) program – mentoring international students in Canadian culture - has grown into something beyond the classroom. International students are getting a real taste of what it’s like to live in Canada and experiencing some of our traditions – like trick or treating – for the first time.

According to GTAM instructor Rick Robinson, the concept for the assignment came following faculty discussion about doing a better job of integrating international students at MHC.

“There are lots of international students on campus but we’re not internationalizing,” said Robinson. “What better place to address the issue than in a class about cultural awareness?”

GTAM students were paired with ESL students in September and asked to meet on a weekly basis to share in conversations and activities, and to keep a journal about their experiences.

Karla Pontarolo was apprehensive about the assignment at first, but her fear of saying the wrong thing or struggling with language barriers has long passed. “We’re like a family now,” she said about her classmates.

International student Aki Okamatsu chose MHC because she wanted to learn more about Canada and its culture but confessed she had trouble asking for help at first.

“I didn’t want to admit I didn’t understand but people are really kind. They explain to me. It is a different culture, it makes me see things in a different view.”

In addition to celebrating Canadian holidays, students participated in Culture Day which gave international students a chance to share their traditions also. Okamatsu taught the group to use chopsticks and Indian student Kiran Gill made supper.

GTAM student Sandra Wilson has noticed a big change in the class as a whole.

“The way we interact now is so different from how we interacted in September.  I think international students are enjoying their experience a lot more. Learning is so much easier,” said Wilson, whose international connection is preparing her for an upcoming trip to Thailand.

As the semester draws to a close, the connections made through this experience will continue into the New Year as it’s no longer about completing an assignment, it’s about the relationships that have been made.

The message Pontarolo hopes to share with other students is to keep an open mind. Growing up in a small town, she never had the opportunity to interact with people from other cultures. “There are all of these different cultures and traditions out there. You have to have an open mind to let an international student in. You can’t be stuck in a bubble. We are a multicultural society.”

Wilson echoed those sentiments. “This experience has taught me a lot about interacting with people in general. We need to have respect, not everyone is the same. We should be willing to take time to talk, be friendly, and get to know our international students on a personal level.”

For Gill, the best part of her Canadian experience has been MHC… and Halloween. “I got lots of candy. It was amazing.”