International Café breaks down barriers

It's amazing the effect candles on a birthday cake can have when you're thousands of miles away from home.

Charlene Janes knows what even the smallest touches can do for a student seeking to belong in a new country. As international liaison officer for the International Centre for Students, Janes sees the challenges that international students face when studying in a foreign country. Any chance she has to stem some of the anxiety they experience, she seizes.

Out of that desire, the International Café was born in the spring of 2009.

"The idea was to provide a casual and comfortable setting for our international students that encourages them to get to know each other and develop friendships," says Janes. "It gives them the chance to ask their advisors or any guests at the Café questions in an informal setting and hopefully breaks down some barriers in the process."

The International Café is held once a month (the last Friday) for the first three months of each semester. Janes books Anderson Hall (AH100) for a two-hour block and students have the opportunity to mingle with their fellow international students as well as guests from the various resource units on campus.

"We do it in AH100 because it has some couches and is much more informal than a classroom setting," says Janes. "The first few events we've held, I've invited staff from Counselling Services, the Health Centre, Arts & Science Academic Advising and so on to try and help develop some awareness with the students of all the resources and services available to them here on campus."

In September, the International Café was attended by students from Belize, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, China, United Kingdom, the United States, Norway, Malaysia, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, St. Lucia, Dominica, Bahamas, Pakistan and Kenya.

The Café features birthday celebrations for those who've had a birthday in the previous month, while also recognizing major holidays and celebrations that have occurred in the students' country of residence.

"We are just trying to reduce some of the loneliness they can experience by recognizing and celebrating the events they may have left behind in their home country," says Janes. "At the same time, we hope to develop their awareness of the various resources and services available to them on campus.
"I also anticipate that such a program can enhance awareness amongst the broader University community of the many obstacles, successes, hopes and dreams of our international students. They really are an amazing group and add so much to our campus."