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[Report] Filipino international student in Canada has advice for those wanting to follow in her footsteps

A Filipino international student happily shared her experience studying in Canada, but she also had a reminder for those interested in doing the same.

Une femme marche avec un sac devant le collège Fanshawe.

Le collège Fanshawe est la deuxième institution de London à rapporter des menaces d'agression sexuelle sur son campus cette semaine.

Photo: Radio-Canada

RCI

Fanshawe College in London is one of the largest schools in Ontario today, accepting thousands of students from around the world each year. The administration of Fanshawe International sat down for an interview with Radio Canada International to share how they ensure the welfare of their students.

Fanshawe College in London is one of the largest schools in Ontario today, accepting thousands of students from around the world each year. The administration of Fanshawe International sat down for an interview with Radio Canada International to share how they ensure the welfare of their students.

Hannah Alaja came to Canada from the Philippines in October last year with her life partner, Nico. Like many newly arrived international students, it took them a few weeks to adjust to Ontario’s weather.

Alaja is enrolled in a two-year business human resources program at a school in London. She expected face-to-face classes to resume this January.

I was excited. I’d already bought clothes, Alaja said, laughing. They were cancelled, but it’s okay because of [my] work. I thought it would be hard to do face-to-face [class] when I worked.

She receives her course modules via her online account at Fanshawe and attends her classes virtually via online learning.

She receives her course modules via her online account at Fanshawe and attends her classes virtually via online learning.

Photo: Courtesy: Hannah Alaja

Alaja was one of more than 3,300 first-year international students at Fanshawe College in September 2021, a record number of new enrollees in a school semester. There are a total of 6,330 international students from 113 countries at the school. Most are from India, the Philippines, China, Vietnam and South Korea.

Alaja admitted that the switch to online learning was a big adjustment.

I’ve had a hard time getting used to online learning because in the Philippines, we have face-to-face classes all the time, Alaja said.

She has also experienced a breakdown during her studies.

It happened during one of my classes with a lockdown browser or something. Then I think I lost my Internet connection and it was still locked down. It was like a breakdown and I cried. I got disconnected from the Internet. I don’t know if my professor saw me, but I was really crying. I was afraid to take that exam, Alaja said.

Alaja is the only child in her family.

She previously worked in the Philippines as an HR associate. Today, she has a job at a restaurant in Ontario.

When it comes to work, in the Philippines, I was only used to office work. But when I came here, it was a really big adjustment. With just one click, I was responsible for myself. I can no longer ask my parents for help. It’s a big change as I never worked at a fast food [restaurant] like here. The work is rotation-based, so you do everything. Washing dishes is bad at closing, and I often close. And my co-workers are of a different race, Alaja said.

Nico and Hannah Alaja flew to Canada together on October 13, 2021.
PHOTO: COURTESY: HANNAH ALAJA

Nico and Hannah Alaja flew to Canada together on October 13, 2021.

Photo: Courtesy: Hannah Alaja

Following the start of the new semester in January 2022, Fanshawe College currently has 7,823 students from 109 countries. Nearly 2,000 of them are in the blended program (part online and part face-to-face classes).

In an interview, Radio Canada International asked a school official how they were addressing the concerns of these thousands of students.

According to Fanshawe International Dean Wendy Curtis, students often complain about their temporary resident status and the job search.

Of course, the most common concerns are making certain that they have the right status, so either study permit or your work permit. Just making absolutely sure that they’re always doing the right thing, Curtis said.

We have a host of what we call student life coordinators who are certified as registered international student advisors. So they support the students with those concerns, she said.

According to Curtis, finding the right part-time job is a big challenge for new international students.

Upon arrival, the perfect fit might be a bit elusive. We work towards a good fit and we do that through a couple of things. One is that whole financial work series. It’s two days and it talks about what a resume looks like here, what skills you need to demonstrate in order to secure a job that's comparable to your skills here in Canada.

Our boot camp takes that experience and work towards that perfect fit. Now much of this, though, I have to say, is managing expectations. So, whether a student’s domestic or international, what they have to recognize is that they are a student. First priority needs to be learning. Second priority is employment, Curtis said.

And because most students learn online, they’re taking steps to help them, most of whom are in different parts of the world.

At the International Centre at Fanshawe, we remain open. And when students were fully online, we provided services that were extended from around 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to make sure that we could accommodate questions from students who were all over the world, Curtis said.

What we've attempted to do is make sure that we have a really robust online presence. We have multiple ways for students to reach us and we will make, you know, immediate referrals to support the other pieces; that international students have health insurance and that includes 24-hour support for mental health in various languages, she said.

A place to dwell, full of peace, secure, a place to rest—this is home to me, and that is why I long for it so.

Alaja is set to complete the first year of her program. She has some advice for those wanting to follow in her footsteps and come to Canada as an international student.

As an international student, when it comes to money, you need to have funds. Many people ask me, for instance: if you’re single, can your part-time [job] pay for your tuition for next term? Actually, no. I’m not trying to discourage you, but that’s the reality. It won’t really work.

Rodge Cultura

This report by our reporter Rodge Culturahas been translated from Tagalog to English.

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