The importance of international education

October 14, 2016

Studying abroad has many benefits in and outside the classroom, and it helps everyone on the path to global citizenship

Thanks to technology and travel, the world feels like a smaller place than it did even a decade ago. You’re no longer limited to choosing your post-secondary destination based on your geographic location. And you can make an informed decision about your future before leaving your country.

Videos, maps, blogs, stories and social media posts can give you a pretty good idea of what it feels like where you’re going before you even step outside your house, and recruiters from other universities can answer your questions at education fairs sometimes right in your own backyard. To study at a particular university or with a particular professor, you need the time, money and drive (and grades, of course) to get there.

The post-secondary institution of your dreams could be halfway around the world—maybe even in a modest, winter city in the middle of a prairie province.


Check out the latest episode of our Clock Radio podcast. International recruiter and alumna Victoria Rissling shares her adventures connecting with students overseas.

Far from home

Image-story-DavidMThe first thing David Mugabi was struck by upon his arrival in Edmonton was the area’s vastness. The airport sat in the middle of a wide, open field. Edmonton (or at least its international airport) was nothing like Kampala.

“I was just overwhelmed by culture shock,” recalls David (pictured right). Uganda is a third-world country and as he exited the airport, he stepped into the first world. He was immediately taken aback by the width of the roads and how spread out everything was. “In Kampala, everything is clustered together.”

He admits he felt detached at first, though MacEwan Residence staff helped him feel welcome. “I was missing home a lot. I didn’t want to be here, but at the same time I did want to be here. I was just excited to see what would happen next.”

International students come to MacEwan and Canada for a wide variety of personal reasons. Each person has their own story.

“To give you an example, our two largest international student populations are India and China,” says Kimberley Howard, executive director of MacEwan International.

India has a population of almost 1.3 billion people, 23 official languages and 29 states plus more territories, while China has more than 1.3 billion people, over 90 indigenous languages, 56 recognized ethnic groups and 34 provinces.

“There are really many Chinas and many Indias,” she continues. “And there are vast differences in people from the same country. Even though our students may share the same country, they're still individuals and can have very different experiences.”

“ Both my parents studied abroad and they thought it would be good exposure if I studied in another country” David Mugabi 

Kimberley says it’s important not to generalize, and that everyone chooses to come to Canada (and MacEwan) for their own reasons.

For David (now an alumnus of the Bachelor of Commerce program), the decision was obvious. “Both my parents studied abroad and they thought it would be good exposure if I studied in another country.”

New perspective

Image-story-KarenK“I care a lot about people,” says Karen Kempango (pictured right), Bachelor of Science in Nursing student.

Like David, Karen left Kampala to go to university. Her grandmother, an 80-something-year-old nurse, inspired her to enter the profession. But Karen wasn’t satisfied with studying in Uganda. She craved a different perspective.

“I grew up seeing what nurses do, and I believe we can do better,” she says. “I’ve seen so many people lose their lives because of negligence and insufficient care. But when I got here, my perception changed and I got to love nursing more because it’s valued so much and there are more best practices here.”

After three years at MacEwan, Karen looks forward to being able to take her newfound experience and skills back home to make a difference. “I know people say it’s hard—that you can’t make a change—but I believe I can teach others best practices and get them to know the core competencies.”

Karen attributes her success to her family’s advice. “My parents told me to keep in mind that ‘believing you can do it, believing you deserve it and believing you'll get it.’ That's one thing that motivated me. They mentioned that it always seems impossible until it's done. That advice just keeps coming right into my head and it helps me work toward my goal.”

For a lot of students, leaving home for a few years is a big deal—bigger still if you’re headed to the other side of the world. Because of that, MacEwan works hard to make sure international students feel welcome.

Solid education

In past years, groups of student volunteers and MacEwan International staff members huddle together in the arrivals section of the Edmonton International Airport, waiting to greet new students. This year, MacEwan International hosted a special new student orientation. Though they have never met these students, volunteers are eager to welcome them to their new home.

And that, says Kimberley, is part of what makes MacEwan’s international efforts stand out. “Students are welcomed, not processed.”

Kimberley and her team are working alongside the international offices of Edmonton’s other post-secondary institutions to help all incoming students feel welcome when they arrive in the city.

“Because almost all Canadian institutions are public, there's little variation in quality, so people choose on location, on brand or on a specific program that a university offers,” she explains. Kimberley also notes that similar markets (including the U.S., India and China) offer both public and private post-secondary options, and the quality ranges from excellent to questionable. “That's a checkmark in Canada's favour—you're going to get a solid education.”

“ An international degree holds a lot of cachet in many countries.” Kimberley Howard

David plans to bring his solid education back home to Uganda.

“To put it into perspective, Canada has taken great leaps in an efficient manner in which they run supply chain operations, vis-à-vis Uganda, which still has to play catch up,” says David. “I plan to close that gap.”

Since earning his degree, David has returned to Uganda to conduct research on how produce is distributed in the country. “Uganda is the regional food basket for Eastern Africa, meaning that the potential for produce distribution businesses is enormous,” he says. “By December, I will be coming back to Canada to source funding both through a job and partnership with investors. I plan to divide my time between Uganda and Canada; luckily I don’t have to choose either, as the world is quickly becoming a global village.”

Career cachet and more

“Most international students want a Canadian credential, and I would say the majority want to stay and work in Canada,” says Kimberley. “An international degree holds a lot of cachet in many countries.”

Image-story-RiyahL“Going abroad for university was something that I always knew that I wanted to do,” says Riyah Lakhani (pictured right). She’s studying journalism in the Bachelor of Communication Studies program, and the rising star had already received recognition for her storytelling ability—she was shortlisted for a 2016 Emerge Media Award.

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“Unfortunately, the job markets in Kenya and a lot of other developing countries value foreign 'first-world' degrees more than those issued by their own country,” she continues. “Having a degree from a Canadian/American/European university gives you an edge in the job market.”

Riyah has one year left at MacEwan; afterward, she plans to go to graduate school before returning to Africa and putting her education to work.

“Getting my degree in Canada has been a really good experience, and one that I’m very fortunate to be able to have,” she says. “Studying in a foreign country, in a completely different culture, taught me essential life skills—how to work hard, be versatile and not to be afraid to be thrown into the unknown because I know I can find my footing again.”

Fostering a global village

Providing education for students from all over the world holds its own cachet here in Canada too. In the Fall 2016 term, MacEwan University was the post-secondary institution of choice for 993 international students. It’s a number the university would like to see increase as part of its Strategic Internationalization Plan, which aims to “foster a culture of internationalization that creates global citizens.”

“Our approach is very much one of diversifying our campus so that when we walk around the hallways, sit in a classroom, go to a lab, participate in a seminar, we have a chance to interact with people who are going to offer a different perspective based on where they grew up, how they grew up, what language they grew up speaking, what religion they may have practiced and what political system they may have come from,” says John Corlett, provost and vice-president (Academic).

“Having students come from other places to study here and having students go abroad to study in those same places is so fundamentally important in a world that is becoming more complex,” he continues. “I think that the presence of international students here simply changes who we are. We become a more diverse place.”

Image-story-NSOwelcomeInternational students, like Riyah, want to bring their education home. Others, like David and Karen, want to maintain a connection between their two countries and the relationships and connections they have made. But no matter their post-graduation plans, international students are having an impact on campus life in the present.

“International students support the diversity of Edmonton and keep our community growing ,” says Victoria Rissling, international student recruiter. “We have a lot to offer students and students have a lot to offer us.”

She says that classrooms filled with students from different backgrounds and with different insights gives everyone a new outlook on what they’re learning—and a competitive advantage.

“We live in a world where globalization is rapid and if you can graduate with more hands-on experience and exposure to that, you’re going to do a lot better in the workplace and as  a contributing member of society.”

“ Canada has this beautiful advantage and the more diversity we welcome, the stronger we become.” John Corlett 

John agrees that we would be culturally impoverished if everyone on campus was the same. “Canada has this beautiful advantage and the more diversity we welcome, the stronger we become.”

International education at MacEwan comes down to providing the best learning experience to all students. After all, we’re part of the same global village.

If you have questions about education abroad or are a prospective international student, visit MacEwan.ca/International for more information.

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