Finding myself near the end of my degree with a few more electives left than I had anticipated, I, like every fourth year student desperately hoping to have a manageable course load for once (although knowing that never happens), decided to take a first-year visual arts course.
The course was great and I found myself enjoying it much more than I thought I would, but I noticed quickly that this wasn’t the case for everyone. Like many classes at UFV, a lot of students in the course were international students. But what I didn’t expect was how segregated the international and domestic students would be.
There are international students in every class, but it wasn’t until I took a class that was workshop rather than lecture based that I noticed the divide between the two groups at UFV. International students kept to themselves and only talked to each other in their respective languages, while the domestic students did the exact same thing.
This caught me off guard because having international students in classes should be nothing new for most domestic students at UFV, most of whom have met (and probably hung out with) that one German exchange student in high school that wouldn’t stop bragging about how he was old enough to drink back at home. So it came as a surprise to me to see this voluntary segregation.
University is obviously different from high school in many ways, but you would hope that the sense of community would carry over. Unfortunately, what I’ve encountered in my classes here at UFV has been the opposite of this. Rather than making an effort to make someone new to the country feel welcome, most students simply keep to themselves.
This has a negative impact on the experience that international students have at UFV. Those of us that grew up in the area always knew what to expect from UFV and most of us show up, go to our classes, and leave. UFV isn’t exactly the top destination school in the area for students that want the true university experience, full of stories they’ll be able to tell for years.
While UFV still has its perks, it’s not exactly what most international students expect — but this is no one’s fault. Domestic students have every right to come and go at UFV without building relationships, and international students have every right to group together — but this isn’t the best university experience for either group. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the way UFV students are; simply wanting to focus on getting an education and not being distracted with the inherent party atmosphere that comes with attending other large post-secondary institutions is, if anything, a smart decision.
However, most international students aren’t aware of this situation and while it would be nice for incoming international students to know what to actually expect by coming to UFV, and Abbotsford, it’s not exactly a smart marketing strategy. On paper, UFV sounds great. It’s the perfect size university — big enough that you actually feel like you’re at university and there’s always something going on, but still small enough to not feel overwhelming. It’s picturesque, located in the “City in the Country,” close to the U.S. border, and surrounded by mountains. It couldn’t be better — right? But this isn’t the UFV that most students arrive at.
However, the situation for international students at UFV isn’t hopeless, and some students are noticing the lack of social opportunities and are creating their own. En Route, a new travel club on campus is working to organize events in the lower mainland for both domestic and international students. (See page 11 for more info.) It’s initiatives like this that are slowly morphing UFV into a more welcoming institution for all students.
While not every UFV student may be willing to get involved with campus travel tours, it doesn’t mean that getting to know other students is impossible. Bridging the divide between domestic and international students can be as simple as making an effort to talk to others in classes instead of automatically falling into our separate cliques. It’s a two-way street and together we need to eliminate the “us and them,” because at the end of the day, whatever the quirks are at UFV, it’s ours.