University benefits from international culture

The University of Lethbridge is extremely fortunate in that international students come from all over the world to study in the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program, typically to meet the English Language requirement for studies at the University.

Students are assessed upon arrival and must advance through up to three levels of competency (Intermediate, High Intermediate and Advanced), taking classes in grammar, communication, reading and writing at each stage. The purpose of the EAP program, run through the International Centre for Students, is to prepare students linguistically and culturally for success in their academic pursuits at the University of Lethbridge.

Brenda MacKinnon, along with Robbyn Hoffe, instructs in the EAP program and ironically, both hail from the Maritimes. They have been with the program for nearly nine and seven years respectively.

"We try to encourage more authentic learning," says Hoffe. "Aside from being very academic, we still try and make the program interesting and relevant by giving them assignments and activities that will help them integrate into university life."

Although these types of authentic and relevant tasks are woven into all courses, those involving integration within the University community fit most naturally in the communications courses. It is here that the focus is on creating and delivering academic presentations, engaging in and facilitating discussions and debates, as well as listening to and taking notes from lectures.

One of the communication tasks is to observe a university class and present a report about that experience. It might sound like a simple task but it forces a student to contact a professor for permission to sit in on a class, observe a completely foreign educational environment, and then prepare and present a summary, all in a new language.

"It's really quite interesting to hear the international students' perspectives on what they see happening in the Canadian classroom," says MacKinnon. "It spurs them on to ask more questions and is really a good opportunity for them to understand what they will be experiencing."

Another communication assignment involves sending students to the Atrium during the University's annual Clubs Week. The goal there is to get international students interacting with their peers as they seek out information about the various campus clubs. Some use the exercise as an opportunity to test their language skills while others seize the chance to join clubs and immerse themselves deeper into Canadian culture.

Other assignments include having students attend relevant lectures and workshops on campus to help them not only adjust to university life but also to engage in an authentic listening and note-taking experience.

An international student's success is a success for the entire University community and only adds to the campus culture.

"International students are such a rich resource for our campus," says MacKinnon, bringing diverse perspectives right to our doorstep."