Students are exposed to a liberal lifestyle that emphasisestolerance and builds strong character

The Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) states that if you want diversity in your education abroad, then Canada is your best choice. The country is favoured for its wide range of quality educational institutions for both degrees and diplomas in technical and professional disciplines.

More than 153,000 international students attend Canadian colleges and universities, giving them a truly cosmopolitan feel.

"Canada is a friendly, safe, multicultural environment with a high standard of education. There are a variety of climates to experience in Canada since it really doesn't snow everywhere.

"We also have a positive immigration policy so most students have friends and family already studying or living here which is a great help," says Barbara Konrad, Director of the ESLI (English as a Second Language International) training centre of Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley.

Students can look forward to participating in a range of activities while studying in Canada. "Just about anything you can imagine is available in Canada. Depending on the location you choose, outdoor activities can include skiing, swimming, boating, rock climbing, performing arts, music (festivals, symphonies, concerts), dining and wine tours," says Konrad.

Nova Scotia is one of the leading university provinces in Canada with a wealth of educational resources including 11 degree-granting universities, a 13-campus community college system, 100 secondary schools and several excellent English language schools - all open to students from other countries.

More than 4,000 students from about 150 countries currently study here.

Elvis Rodricks is the first international student from the Middle East to study at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.

"Coming from a cosmopolitan city like Dubai certainly has its advantages in becoming accustomed to Canada. Independence and a responsible exposure to a liberal lifestyle has opened up many avenues and skills for me and has helped me build a strong character," says Rodricks who has been studying in Canada for the past three years.

Rodricks says his experience has been challenging in a positive way. "Being one of the first international students from the Middle East, I have been an international student advocate and am currently presiding as vice president of union services for the student union. I am also an active rugby player at my university."

Best experience

Ava Czapalay, president of EduNova, an organisation promoting education in Nova Scotia, says, "Universities see students as clients. Services exist to support students and ensure they have the best possible experience.

"Many universities arrange to meet international students at the airport, prepare them for their arrival by orienting them about Canada's basic details. While enrolled, many international students have access to international student advisors who can assist with everything from finding an apartment, processing student visa documentation and finding a job.

"The Canadian government has just agreed to allow international students to work off-campus, for pay, up to 20 hours per week. Many campuses reserve on-campus jobs for international students needing extra financial support."

According to records based on study permits processed overseas, the breakdown of international students in Canada from April 2004 to March 2005 is 56 per cent from Asia and the Pacific region, 18 per cent from Europe, nine per cent from Latin America, eight per cent from the Middle East, six per cent from the US and three per cent from Africa.

Though the ratio of international students to Canadian students varies per institute, in most cases, international students make up 10 per cent per university.
"Others may range from five to 20 per cent," says Czapalay.

"Students choose Canada as it offers a superb quality of education for a reasonable cost, besides providing a welcoming, dynamic and safe environment in which to pursue their studies," says Sarah Ramisch, manager, international admissions and recruitment at Carleton University, Ottawa.

Mahsa Khanbabaei, a student from the Middle East studying science at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says, "Being in Canada has opened my eyes to a new culture and I have gained more self-confidence and independence. I also have many more female role models than I used to.

"Overcoming the culture shock was difficult. I have had to learn English and get used to a culture with more open views. My family played a big part in my decision to move to Canada.

"I have had many opportunities to participate in student events and seek employment here. After completing only one year, I was asked to work as a calculus teacher's assistant. I have also worked in our cafeteria and on our grounds crew," she says.

Personal attention

Christopher Gas, manager of international marketing at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, British Columbia, believes student programmes have become even better.

"The competition for both domestic and international enrolment has increased among Canadian universities in recent years. This has, in turn, led to exciting new programmes and services for students in universities throughout Canada," he says.

Japanese student, Kenji Takasaki from TRU, says, "Many TRU students agree that one of the benefits of studying here is to build close relationships with professors. Most classes are small enough so professors can match the faces and names of their students in a lecture.

"Students are usually called by their first names. The professors are always willing to give students a hand. In fact, while in offices their doors are kept open to welcome students with questions."

Konrad believes Canadian universities are student-oriented. "Just about every Canadian campus has an international department that deals with a variety of student issues, providing administrative, academic and social support. Many campuses provide places of worship for a variety of religious denominations, including mosques, temples and churches."

Sultan Olayan Alomar, a Saudi Arabian student at TWU, says, "Studying at a Christian school as a Muslim has been interesting. I like discussing life and religion with people from different religious backgrounds in my class. I'm also thankful that I can be a positive example of Islam to Canadians, unlike what you see in the news."

Learning skills

Yousef Ali Al Hassan, another student from Saudi Arabia at TWU, says, "I've studied all around the world, but I love studying in Langley because it's very multicultural here and everyone is so friendly. The classes are intense and I see an improvement in my knowledge of English as well.

"Being at a Christian school has actually supported me in maintaining my Muslim morals. ESLI has provided me with a home-stay family that respects my beliefs and is happy to accommodate my 'food practices' as well," he says.

Czapalay believes the experience of studying in Canada offers international students a more global perspective.

"There are many varied activities aimed at introducing international students to Canadian culture. We are obsessed with hockey and many brave international students put on skates and discover why we love the game," she says.

"Canada promotes itself in the international political arena as a peaceful nation and an advocate of equity and human rights. Within the country itself, a majority of Canadians have accepted multiculturalism into mainstream life. Such a philosophy can only create a proactive and safe academic atmosphere for international students," says Rodricks.