Spring 2014 | Issue nº 01
Your experience studying abroad
I thrived! Students share their experiences abroad and tell how they overcame culture shock Pages 8–13
A Persian girl in Canada Pages 6–7
Say goodbye to negativity Page 14
International Voice Magazine Issue nº 01 | Spring 2014
letter from the editor
Publisher | Editor | Art Director: Glauce Fleury
Photo courtesy of Mikko Cervas
Concept, Fact-checking and Proofreading: Glauce Fleury
>>>>>>>>> A Persian girl in Canada
Design: Neo Arte Design and Glauce Fleury Photo courtesy of Mikko Cervas
Contributors | Writers: Connie Behl, Roma Ilnyckyj and Mojgan Shirmohammadi Contributors | Photographers: Mikko Cervas and Tamara Lakeman Cover Photo: Composition of photos taken by Mikko Cervas Advertisement: Glauce Fleury
I thrived! Students share their experiences abroad and tell how they overcame culture shock
Say goodbye to negativity
Printer: RR Donnelley
International Voice Magazine 1234 Brazil Street Vancouver, BC 1B2 R3A Canada Tel: 123-456-7890 Email: email@example.com Website: http://www.ivoicemagazine.ca
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Opportunities on campus International VOICE Winter/2014--
letter from the editor
t’s not easy to succeed when we move to another country and have to
Photo courtesy of Glauce Fleury
adjust to a new culture and language. Vancouver has a growing population of students coming from all over the world to attend English as a second language (ESL) programs, high school and post-secondary education. If you came for a short term, such as a few weeks, you’ll generally
experience your time in a very positive way. You’ll still feel like you’re a tourist and, when you realize, you’re back to your country. If you’re spending months or years here, you might have some challenges to overcome. After the first period, when everything’s new and attractive, life becomes a routine of study and you become a resident. Problems start to come up as it’s usual in everyone’s lives, but here most of us are far from our families and friends, and have to learn how to take care of ourselves…abroad. Vancouver doesn’t have a specific magazine focused on international students. You deserve one. I created International Voice to be a forum of discussions and a source of information for all international students in Vancouver. Produced quarterly, this magazine will cover the challenges of dealing with a new country, language, culture and educational system. This publication will represent the huge community of students living in Vancouver, but also open space to other two groups: newly landed immigrants and Canadians who were once students abroad. I’m sure all these students can help each other by sharing their experiences. International Voice will focus on international students’ challenges, concerns and achievements, covering themes such as culture, health, education, accommodation and social life. We seek stories that inspire others. It can be something about your life, country, internship, volunteering experience, job or favourite place. Most importantly, you can share these stories with us (as interviewees) or tell them yourself (as a contributor). You can also interview other students. Feel free to choose how you’re going to be part of this project. Here all our voices echo together. //
Glauce Fleury was born in Brazil. She has a BA in journalism and has worked in the publishing industry and corporate communications. She’s currently enrolled in the print futures: professional writing program at Douglas College and has just won the Student Communicator of the Year 2013—Award of Excellence from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC/BC).
Photo courtesy of Mikko Cervas
Students with different backgrounds share their experiences while studying abroad and tell how they overcame the tough times—the period known as culture shock—and all the challenges involved in the four steps of culture adaptation By Connie Behl
Born in Canada, Serena Sneddon had a stressful time living and studying in Mexico
t the age of 10, Serena Sneddon, an associate of arts student, temporarily said goodbye to Canada, where she was born, and moved to Mexico with her family. Although her mother is originally from Peru and her father from England, Sneddon didn’t grow up as a bilingual child. Because her dad didn’t speak Spanish, they all used English at home. The two years in Mexico and her student’s life would give her the fluency her parents aimed for, but she had a stressful time adjusting to the new environment. Her father found her sleepwalking. Not only was the school itself much more basic than her previous one in Canada, her sense of isolation was compounded by being bullied by other children. “I refused to get out of bed for like a month. I can’t really pinpoint exactly what did it, but I think it was just the stress of it all. The people, the language, the way the city was laid out...everything,” says Sneddon, who is now 19. Culture shock is a process that
can affect anyone anywhere. As an international student, when you first arrive in Vancouver, everything seems new and exciting. Phone calls to family and friends back home are full of pleasant observations and wonder, and you marvel at the distant mountains while cycling around the spacious Stanley Park. This is the first stage of culture adaptation, the honeymoon, but as with most relationships, it doesn’t last. Weeks pass and things start to bother. It’s like having small stones in your sandals. These stones can be school, language or health troubles. You try to explain them to the locals, but you feel like they’re unsympathetic to your concerns. This is the crisis stage and can be experienced as a sense of anxiety and frustration about being in a new environment. Even small interactions with people can leave you feeling tired and frustrated. At this point, the symptoms of culture shock can become severe, including homesickness, boredom, stereotyping of locals and withdrawal from others. International VOICE
Terrance Nyirongo was raised in Malawi; back in Canada, he had to overcome the language barrier
This stage is hard to overcome if communication in a new language is a problem. Terrance Nyirongo, 19, was born in Canada but moved to Lilongwe, Malawi, with his mother after his parents broke up. He was only six months old. Raised in Africa, he grew up speaking Chitumbuka. Two years ago he left Malawi to reunite with his dad in Canada and study marketing management. His great barrier was the language. Some lecturers spoke too fast. “It was hard for me to understand everything,” he says, explaining that his English classes in Malawi weren’t enough to make him do well here. A strong command of English, however, may not solve all the problems. Taranjot Kaur Deol, 19, couldn’t avoid challenges. She came from Dehradun, India, in 2012 to study biology. Since then, she’s lived with her cousin’s family. Her ability to
communicate in a high level of English helped her make friends. Sadly, she sensed that domestic students held back as soon as they realized that she was an international student. The experience of rejection can be a painful part of culture shock, particularly for teenagers. Deol and Nyirongo are both pieces of the same puzzle. Both came to study in a country where they had relatives, but no friends. Both grew up studying English at school, but it didn’t assure a complete adaptation. Deol communicated very well, but like Nyirongo she had difficulties to understand the instructors in her first weeks. He had an extra difficulty: being understood. He says he had to repeat himself when talking to other people. These students remained bold. They knew what they wanted when they came to Canada: better opportunities in life and a successful career.
Nyirongo addressed his difficulties early in his first semester, speaking with his instructors. He also recorded the lectures and listened to them at home. It took one month to train his ear.
Photos courtesy of Mikko Cervas
After the period of shock, when conflicts arise due to the differences between the old and the new culture, most students will progress onto the third stage of cultural adaptation—the recovery. They’ll find a routine that works for them and start correctly interpreting social cues. Unexpected glimpses of their new viewpoint can surprise them: the subtle changes happen gradually. Nyirongo addressed his difficulties early in his first semester, speaking with his instructors. He also recorded the lectures and listened to them at home. It took one month to train his ear. “I had to adjust to them, and how they talk,” says the student. His proactivity worked. He didn’t allow this challenge to affect his ability to make friends. Although he was shy and afraid of making mistakes, he learned to speak up. His straightforward and bold approach put people at ease. He was willing to make the first move and introduce himself to other students. It’s not hard to see how his confident demeanor coupled with humility and openness to correction is serving him well as he integrates into college life. It’s important to start forming relationships early because it takes time; it’s not a stir fry but a slow-cooked casserole. Culture shock is felt more profoundly by those who don’t have strong social networks. In this sense, Deol made the right decision. She joined programs and clubs as soon as she arrived in Vancouver. In a cultural program, she started as a returning student’s mentee and received some help in her college and social life; in the following semester, she became a new international student’s mentor. It was during this time that she discovered
Taranjot Deol sensed that domestic students held back when they noticed she was an international student
that a Punjabi club existed but didn’t meet often. She’s now the president of the club. Her duties include leading weekly meetings, managing public performances at college events and organizing socials. Deol says she has less time for studying and her grades
were higher during her first lonely six months. It’s a compromise that will pay off when she applies for university transfer. Leadership skills and community involvement are highly valued by admissions committees in Canadian universities. International VOICE
feature The fourth stage of culture adaptation is adjustment. This is when you really understand that the rules of the game of social interaction have changed. Enrolled in the international studies program, Verónica Díaz López is now adjusted to Canada. She left Venezuela in 2011. Since then, she’s lived with a Japanese host family. Through her experiences and one of her courses (intercultural communications), she’s learned to be more sensitive to cultural differences. She’s noticed, for instance, that some cultures are more time oriented. “Time is much more flexible in Venezuela,” she says. If she invited people to a party at 6 p.m., they would show up at 7:30 p.m. She was generally late 15–30 minutes. Even if it’s not much, she found that she needed to make adjustments to her time here, where people are expected to be punctual. Because Latin countries are more relationship oriented, one of her difficulties here was to realize that friendships cannot be rushed. In Venezuela, when she bumps into someone, there’s an expectation to inquire about the person, even if she’s running late. “It does happen in Vancouver, but I feel here it doesn’t take as much time as it does in Venezuela, since in Canada there is a more limited amount of information that you can ask about a person,” she says. It takes courage to endure a period of only shallow relationships. The type of relationship where we feel understood takes time to develop. While understanding intercultural communications intellectually is helpful, it doesn’t mean that the emotional gap is filled. López still engages people and asks about them,
It’s important to keep connecting with people, although unsatisfying superficial interactions leave us wanting to withdraw. New friends may not be a replacement for old ones, but they serve as a stepping stone.
but it’s less time consuming. “It could be due to having less acquaintances or extended family to ask about here,” she says. It’s important to keep connecting with people, although unsatisfying superficial interactions leave us wanting to withdraw. New friends may not be a replacement for old ones, but they serve as a stepping stone. Despite being proactive, you may find that all your friends are other international students. It’s not a bad thing. It’s still important to be
around people with whom you can discuss your frustrations and not be misunderstood. But although a deficit of local friends cuts you off from valuable information, it may not be failing on your part. Vancouverites can be more reserved and private than some other cultures. Given the environment, it’s best to be patient and not rush friendships. However, it’s worth saying why you’d like to keep in touch with the people you met and be willing to make the first move.
Photo courtesy of Mikko Cervas
Verónica López, from Venezuela, has learned to be more sensitive to cultural differences
Culture shock is stronger for some students. While studying in Mexico to gain fluency in Spanish, Serena Sneddon never felt at home. Now that the Canadian student isn’t a 10-year-old anymore, she understands things more clearly. “It’s really important for people to learn about other cultures, because not only do you expand your horizons, but you learn about yourself,” she says. “This experience made me a much stronger person.” Remembering her experience in
Mexico, Sneddon says living in a foreign country can make students feel like drowning, especially if they come from warmer cultures. Since she was a student abroad, she understands what international students in Vancouver might feel. “Don’t give up,” she says. “Try to talk to people you sit with in class, try and find a club or something that interests you, and see if you can find other international students on campus.” Sneddon reinforces the need to practice English, but she
believes it’s nice to talk to people in your native language from time to time. At some point, during the whirlwind of coursework and deadlines, you may find that the things you thought were weird don’t bother you so much. “Hang in there! Canada is a wonderful country with a lot to offer.” //
Connie Behl was born in England. She has a BA in business studies from the University of Westminster in London, UK.
Say goodbye to negativity By Roma Ilnyckyj
Photo courtesy of Tamara Lakeman
others know that you appreciate their s an English language educator, words. Plus, that feeling you get when I’m used to the typical you allow yourself to enjoy a compliment questions about grammar and is a great motivator. Blame the language, pronunciation, and new vocabulary usage. not yourself. Seriously—English is hard. But lately I’ve noticed that there’s often Every language is hard, actually. So stop something underlying those questions: a blaming yourself. Change “My grammar lack of confidence that comes through in sucks” to “English grammar is incredibly how students speak about their abilities. complicated and I’m having trouble This might have something to do with figuring out the difference between the pressure of achieving “native speaker present perfect and simple past.” Change proficiency” or the desire to speak “My pronunciation sucks” to “Wow, “without an accent.” Whatever the reason English is one of the few languages that is, every day I hear students say things has the ‘th’ sound and my tongue doesn’t like “my pronunciation sucks” or “my really like it.” Of course, I’m not saying grammar is so bad” or “I never remember I always downplay my you shouldn’t be realistic—you have to what I learn in class.” identify and acknowledge areas you have As a language learner, I’m guilty language skills, so I difficulty with. Just don’t dwell on them. of saying these types of things all the understand you Start complimenting yourself. time. I grew up with English as my Each learner has areas of difficulty and primary language outside my home, strength. Maybe you really struggle with grammar but you have but I’ve always spoken Ukrainian with my family and have no trouble picking up and remembering new vocab. So tell studied Chinese on and off for over 10 years. Despite my yourself! Before you sit down to do homework or study for a linguistic background, I always downplay my language skills, test, run through the things that you know you’re good at— so I understand you. It can be difficult to stay excited and say them out loud or write them down. Stick the list on your optimistic about language learning after you took years of bathroom mirror and read it every time you brush your teeth. classes, lived abroad and studied every day, but still don’t feel In psychology, we know that negative self-talk is, well, you can communicate the way you’d like. negative—it brings your confidence and mental health down. Everyone hits a point where they feel they’ll ever become Negative self-talk in language learning has the same effect. So “fluent.” But it’s important to not let those fears creep too stop downplaying your skills! You’re a language master—trust much into our speech. The way we talk about the way we talk me. Language learning is hard. Really, really hard. Reward is important—it has an impact on our confidence and our yourself with some positive self-talk. Your confidence—and sense of accomplishment. So I challenge you to eliminate your proficiency—will follow. // negative self-talk from your language learning. Here are three suggestions: Say “thank you” when someone compliments your Roma Ilnyckyj has studied in China and Ukraine. After language skills. Being humble is important to a lot of people completing an MA in modern language education, she spent a year teaching academic writing in China. She currently works as (and cultures), but remember that saying thank you is not being a freelance editor, an SEO consultant, and an occasional English arrogant. It acknowledges your accomplishments and lets the tutor at Vancouver Community College.