September 30, 2023


Aleks Mivonenko laughed trying to reach a nametag that had been placed on her back.

“The people (of Canada) are so friendly and kind, and the nature, it’s so beautiful. I love looking down the streets and seeing all of the trees and bushes.”

A first-year web design and development student hailing from Russia, Mivonenko is one of the many students who attended Conestoga College’s International Student Welcome Reception on Sept 15. Students from around the world mingled with each other in the rec centre to get to know one another.

“Freezing, but it’s awesome and clean. It’s great, everyone here is so friendly,” said Wesley Vilsan, a cheery first-year student from India as he explained his experience in Canada thus far.

Every student in the gym held a simple white sheet of paper, with Ice Breaker Bingo printed at the top. Each box on the page had a certain quality or trait written in it with a space to jot down the names of newfound friends who possessed those certain qualities or traits. Some boxes read, Has a pet or Speaks more than two languages.

“Last year we did a soft launch, as a test sort of. It was only one line, but this year we added prizes for a full card,” said Julia Villemaire, the activities co-ordinator at Conestoga’s International Office.

The Ice Breaker Bingo was a big success. Students of all different backgrounds enthusiastically shuffled around the room participating in the bingo, all the while forming friendships to last a lifetime. Music and laughter filled the gymnasium as students began to dance together in large groups. The crowd danced and waved their hands along to Bob Marley’s One Love. Despite the drastically different backgrounds, there was an incredible sense of unity and togetherness in the air.

At Conestoga College, there are between 3,000 and 4,000 international students in attendance with 70 per cent of that population coming from India. There are also students from China, Korea, Vietnam, Ukraine, Russia, Nigeria and more. Roughly 450 to 500 students attended the welcome reception. According to Villemaire, Conestoga’s International Office does everything it can to make Conestoga a home away from home for these students. Unfortunately, visa issues plague many of the students. Due to the massive influx, visas are bottlenecked and many students haven’t received their visa, and are attending classes two weeks late. Staff in the International Office do their best to streamline the experience for them.

“Health insurance, we help them find housing, help them with airport pickup, if they have any kind of crisis, like if they can’t get money from their home country, we have staff who deal with that,” said Villemaire. The office also works to help students out with their studies, finding work, getting co-op placements and helping them volunteer. Many of the volunteers at the Welcome Reception were international students.

The International Office also takes it one step further.

“If they have families, we try to help their families understand what’s going on,” said Villemaire.

Aside from potential visa issues, the biggest hurdle for the international students is culture shock because this is the first time in a new country for a lot of them. Many of the students used to be told by their parents what to do in life, but they are off on their own and may feel very nervous.

“We tell them in the orientation that it’s normal to feel this way,” said Villemaire.

It’s a very new experience for the students, and one could argue that there is more learning required in adjusting to Canada’s culture than the classes themselves.

“In the orientation we go over plagiarism and understanding Canadian laws. We give them a student handbook that tells them where to get food and groceries,” she said. International students need a Canadian friend to welcome them and help them get comfortable in Canada. Even a friendly smile or “Hello” will help.

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