Christmas, like many other holidays, can be a difficult time for international students to be away from family and friends. With events like the annual International Christmas Dinner, the International Centre for Students (ICS) helps ease that feeling of isolation, all the while introducing international students to Canadian customs and traditions.
Charlene Janes, the international liaison officer at the University of Lethbridge, plays a major role in assisting international students as they adapt to campus life socially, academically and culturally.
"I represent international student interests at the University, act as an advocate on behalf of international students on both academic and welfare issues, and provide advice, support and referral to students," says Janes.
Janes and the ICS encourage students to participate in the social and recreational activities the office provides. These include the monthly International Café gatherings, where birthdays are celebrated, stories are shared, games are played and students are presented an opportunity to build friendships. Potluck dinners and the annual Christmas gathering are also popular events.
Eddie Sottie, an international student from Ghana and PhD candidate in biomolecular science, has been studying at the U of L for the last 15 months. He says he makes an effort to attend all the events planned by the International Centre.
"The events they organize for us have really helped me to learn so many things about the way Canadians relate to people and treat foreigners," says Sottie. "International students are treated with so much respect, and I am so impressed with the way Charlene pays attention to our needs."
The traditional Christmas dinner was held on Dec. 3 in the Students' Union Ballroom. Students were invited to bring a Canadian guest as well as any family members to the event. In addition, four international alumni also attended.
"My kids were showered with Christmas presents," laughs Sottie. "The event and the dinner mean a lot to us as a family because it helps us feel at home."
The tradition of the International Christmas Dinner started three years ago, and serves as the last major international student event for the fall semester. Its rise in popularity, over the past three years, has been remarkable. The first dinner had just 35 attendees, while the second ballooned to 72. This year, the number doubled once again, with 150 people taking part.
"Many of our students go home or travel at Christmas so this has provided a wonderful opportunity for us all to connect prior to the Christmas break," explains Janes.
"We had two very special guests this year as Dr. Mike Mahon and his wife Maureen attended. They talked with each student and barely had time to eat. It seemed every student wanted their picture taken with the new president and his wife."
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