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WAYNE YOUNG: Diversity in the classroom

Students from around the globe are boosting diversity and adding new perspectives at Holland College
Students from around the globe are boosting diversity and adding new perspectives at Holland College - Bill McGuire

International students bring new perspectives, enrich Holland College campus life

For 15 minutes, Amanda answered questions from her Journalism classmates about what it’s like to live through a Category 5 hurricane.

I had asked the young Puerto Rican a day earlier if she’d share her experience in a news conference-style exercise in class the next morning.

Given the slow-moving hurricane that was devastating the Carolinas in southeastern U.S. and President Donald Trump’s controversial assertion that his country’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year earlier was “an incredible unsung success,” her story and perspective would be timely.

Without hesitation, Amanda agreed and everyone (myself included) soon gained a deeper appreciation of a hurricane’s catastrophic force. In response to a question from one of her classmates, she likened the morning after the hurricane to an apocalypse.

Great questions in the impromptu news conference came not only from Islanders and Maritimers in the class but also from students from India, Bahamas, Ukraine and Nigeria.

Watching the exercise, I thought back years ago to my own days as a student in this same program. My classmates were nearly all from P.E.I. and the others were from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The face of the student body continues to change. My classroom isn’t unique. In fact, about one in five students studying at the college now come from outside Canada.

Nationally, statistics from the Canadian Bureau for International Education show the number of international students was just under half a million by the end of 2017, a remarkable 20 per cent jump over 2016 and well above government’s goal of 450,000 international students by 2022.

In my view, that’s great news. These students bring a diversity to campus life that enhances the educational experience. It should be celebrated, and it is.

Last spring, for example, Holland College hosted its first Diversity Fair showcasing the culture and traditions of many of these international students. Grace Gormley, a 2018 graduate of our program, wrote in a Guardian article, “It felt like the entire globe was jam-packed into the cafeteria….” It certainly did with students from nearly every continent sharing and celebrating their culture in food, costume, song and dance. A Venezuelan student told Grace, “To see this much diversity in the college makes me feel like I’m not alone.”

The Island has a long tradition of welcoming newcomers. Most of us – excepting the Mi’kmaq who have been here for several thousand years – can trace our ancestry back to immigration starting in the 1700s. My forebears arrived here from France, England, Ireland and Scotland.

Despite out-migration and a birthrate that has flat-lined, the Island’s population has grown from 135,000 just a decade ago to more than 152,000 today. That growth is being fueled mainly by new immigrants.

This latest wave of newcomers is helping the province to grow and prosper, and we can accommodate even more.

Part of the federal government’s international education strategy is to increase the number of students choosing to remain in Canada as permanent residents after graduation.

I see first-hand every day the new ideas and perspectives these students bring to the classrooms and to the campus. If some of them find opportunities here after finishing their studies and choose to make P.E.I. their home, they’d be ideal candidates.

In that scenario, everyone wins.

- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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