In 1992, Denise Calderwood (MEd '93) was completing the final year of her master's degree in international education at the University of Lethbridge when, having made friends with a number of international students, she noticed that many of them were missing the traditions and familiarity of home.
It was a simple observation, but it led her to found a new annual tradition at the University – the International Dinner.
"For many international students, eating is a great way to be hospitable and to enjoy one another's company; the students were missing that. I thought if they were able to cook for us it would make them feel more at home, like the hosts instead of always the guests. The students were quite excited about that," explains Calderwood.
The inaugural dinner was held in Southminster United Church. Under the supervision of a cooking professor from Lethbridge College, Calderwood and the students prepared about 15 ethnic dishes for approximately 200 guests. The evening included a speaker and a live auction with various donations including ethnic artwork and musical performances. The proceeds from the evening went towards an international student scholarship.
While the students no longer cook the dinner, Calderwood is thrilled that the evening remains an important tradition, providing an opportunity for the University community to learn about and celebrate its diversity.
"Through the years, the University has recognized the value of the international student community. I am very pleased with the development and growth of the International Centre for Students. We all gain from the international students who come to the University; we understand world issues differently when we have seen and discussed world views with people from other lands," says Calderwood, whose enthusiasm for learning about other cultures and peoples began when she was just a child.
"I grew up in Vancouver in a very multi-cultural community with kids from around the world frequently arriving as new immigrants to Canada. I was always interested in who they were, where they came from and their family traditions."
As a young adult, Calderwood earned a bachelor of education in special education from the University of British Columbia, but her childhood passion for international studies continued to burn bright. In October 1974, she set off on a Rotary International Graduate Fellowship to the American University of Beirut in Lebanon to pursue a master's in international education. Unfortunately, civil war broke out and the danger of remaining in Lebanon became too great. She was forced to abandon her studies and leave the country in June 1975. She returned to Canada to teach special education in Claresholm, Alta. She married in 1977 and kept busy with work and a growing family, but she never lost sight of her goal to complete her master's degree.
"In 1991, I applied to complete my master's at the University of Lethbridge in international education; however, my coursework from Lebanon did not transfer. The University graciously allowed me to create my program which included core courses, an internship in Malaysia, summer courses with the Summer Institute of Intercultural communication in Portland, Oregon and a thesis paper about the adjustments international students face when they go to school," explains Calderwood.
In 1993, Calderwood completed her master's and stayed on at the University, volunteering 3-4 hours each day as an international student liaison. Two years later she had literally volunteered her way into a job. During her two years as an employee at the University, Caldwell had the opportunity to travel to Fujian Province China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore to meet with alumni and to promote the University of Lethbridge.
"I was the international student liaison from 1995-1997. I enjoyed it very much, helping the students, going to conferences and seeing what the students' lives had become after they were back in their home countries," remembers Calderwood.
She continues to have a passion for cultures and people the world over. She has travelled for pleasure, volunteer work and further studies to 42 different countries and plans to volunteer at a small school in Angola in the near future.
As to why she continues to travel the world Calderwood simply says, "I love to do that, so I do."
GET THE FACTS
· From January to April 1992, Calderwood and her children lived in Kuala Lumpur where she interned as an academic advisor at the Canadian Education Centre, which was set up to attract international students to Canadian Universities
· She has been a part of the production and filming of seven documentary films
· Calderwood's extensive volunteer work includes time with the Mother Tongue Literacy program in Kenya and an orphanage in Mexico
· Calderwood never tires of learning and plans to begin an undergraduate degree in Canadian history
This story first appeared in the April 2012 issue of the Legend. To view the entire issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.