New international undergraduate students are learning the ins-and-outs of university life at UAlberta—even before classes start—thanks to a preparation program known as U of A+.
Sixty eight first-year students from more than 11 countries are participating in U of A+, a series of classes, workshops and one-on-one training aimed at giving first year international students the skills they’ll need to succeed throughout university.
The program kicked off August 14, and since then participants have been learning about writing essays for university, talking to professors, navigating Bear Tracks and finding campus support services. This is the second year U of A+ has been offered, now two weeks instead of just one.
“The program is just great,” said first-year engineering student Udey Rishi, from India. “They’ve exactly figured out what international students need.”
Participants include students from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines, who are beginning bachelor programs in September in the Faculties of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences; Arts; Engineering; and Science.
The delivery of U of A+ is a collaborative effort, involving Faculties and support units from across campus.
The Student Success Centre (Learning Resources) is providing tips and techniques on studying for exams, analyzing information and effective note-taking, while the Office of Student Judicial Affairs is explaining the university’s code of student conduct, including the rules around cheating and plagiarism.
The Centre for Writers is teaching participants how to craft essays and cite references, while Dr John Simpson, an instructor in the Department of Philosophy, is introducing students to the concept of critical thinking and how it applies to studies.
And the lessons go beyond the classroom too. Participants are also learning the importance of socializing with local students as a means of cultural facilitation, plus how to deal with stress and how to access help if they feel overwhelmed.
“International students often face more personal struggles as they try to adjust to their new life,” said facilitator Dr Agatha Beschell, a psychologist with University Health Centre Student Counselling, citing isolation and loneliness as stressors that are more common among international students.
Beschell is providing participants with strategies to deal with stress and touching on topics such as Canadian social norms, dating, and where to go on campus for help with problems—both personal and academic.
“We were trying to convey the idea that it’s—number one—ok to ask for help, and secondly it’s their responsibility to do so,” said Beschell, noting students are often expected to be much more proactive in monitoring their personal academic success in Canada than in their home country.
Michele Brown, an instructor in the Department of Drama, leads an interactive workshop where students do exercises to enhance their range of vocal and physical expression and to develop an awareness of the cultural expectations of the Canadian classroom.
“I try to give students a sense of relaxed presence, so that they develop a sense of confidence in their communication. It’s a pretty daunting task they’re up against,” said Brown referring to the cultural change that accompanies their change in geography. “I want them to have a better chance of communicating who they are in this context.”
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for all of us to engage in other cultures, and what that brings to the U of A in terms of perspectives is amazing,” she added.
And students are praising the U of A+ program too.
“I wanted to have two weeks before my classes to get used to things, see the campus and know how things work,” said German student Michelle Ehmig, who will study philosophy in the Faculty of Arts. “I really like it.”
“Essays and assignments in Germany are different, so it’s good to know how it’s done here,” she said.
Colombian student Mariantonia Lago says U of A+ has been a great way to meet new people and to transition into her studies, a Bachelor of Arts in English.
“I felt very lost and didn't know a lot of things about the university, so it (U of A+) just seemed like a good guide,” said Lago. “I love it. It really teaches you what to expect and tips you wouldn’t get otherwise.”