Conference Reflection: Canadian Bureau of International Education 2015
We recently represented #RyersonSA at the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE)’s 49th Annual International Education Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario, held on November 22–25, 2015. This year’s theme “Global Engagement: Crossing Borders, Connecting Generations” explored how to keep internationalization at the forefront within the institution, all levels of government, business, and in the minds of students. We discussed investigations on how to best embrace a global mindset and increase international opportunities for students, faculty, and staff, and innovations in student development within an international context. The conference featured over 800 delegates, representing over 40 countries. We delivered two presentations: “Speaking Your Language: Enhancing Mental Health Support for International Students” and “Researching International Students: Are We Asking the Right Questions”. The following highlights each of our experiences at CBIE.
To be honest, walking into the doors of the opening reception, and seeing close to 800+ delegates was slightly intimidating. The opening reception was set in a venue with a stunning view of Niagara Falls, lit up in blue and gold—the colours of the CBIE logo—and it was breathtaking. However, I couldn’t help but notice the hundreds of professionals from different institutions and governments, networking and reconnecting with old colleagues. As a very new professional in this field, and still a student, it was a little overwhelming, but at the same time exciting, seeing the prospect of all the new connections to be made and new things to learn.
Attending the CBIE conference, I believe that I had a very unique viewpoint of the sessions and discussions happening at the conference compared to my fellow colleagues. Being there as a presenter, but simultaneously as an student studying internationally, gave me the opportunity to be in the same environment as professionals discussing the best and most effective approaches to help students reach success during their transition and studies in Canada.
A Student In the Room
I found it interesting that many of the professionals did not know there was a student sitting right there in the room with them, as they were surprised when I introduced myself as, first and foremost, a student. As they were discussing different ideas, strategies, and studies on the topic of international education, I was sitting right there putting myself in the shoes of all of those students they talked about. Many times, I was able to relate, but a few others, I wasn’t. In some sessions, I was thinking from the viewpoint of a student—especially the immigration related sessions—where the topics discussed directly impacted me and my future. But I was also thinking like a professional, about things I could take away and then apply to my job in working as a Lead Mentor for the Faculty of Science at International Student Support (ISS), as part of Student Affairs. I realized there was a very fine line between the two, and at times struggled with which side of the line I was supposed to be standing on. As time went on, I came to realize that I could be both, and balance my two roles while helping other students as well.
One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was that, contrary to popular belief, so much hard work goes towards easing students into their transition and life in Canada. The conference sessions covered a broad variety of topics from immigration policies, student leadership and development opportunities, the internationalization of institutions, global engagement, intercultural peer mentoring, collaboration with other countries, etc. As a student and professional at the same time, I was able to identify that all of these were relevant and significant topics that truly affected the life that students studying internationally strive for in Canada. The sessions that personally impacted me the most were sessions on peer mentoring in different capacities, immigration policy sessions, and mental health sessions.
If I had to pick one session out of the whole conference that stood out the most and that truly stuck with me, it would have to be the Leadership in Mental Health: An Action Plan for International Students, which realistically identified and found coping solutions for many specific strategies international students face. The session fell exactly in place with many of the mental health strategies we have used at Ryerson and ISS throughout the past years, and gave me an opportunity to connect with professionals that had innovative, fun, and effective ideas on reaching out and helping students. It was a great takeaway for me and I left the session inspired to do so much more towards mental health awareness in this field.
Being a presenter, however, was definitely my highlight of the event. The Speaking Your Language project Tharsy and I presented on is a project that I am truly passionate about. Despite being extremely nervous before the presentation—seeing as that we were at such a huge, national event, with many more experienced people watching us—I was very excited to share the work that we had done for students throughout the past year. Being involved in the Speaking Your Language project has given me the opportunity to help other students, and simultaneously help and develop my own leadership skills. I was happy that I and other student facilitators were able to conduct this student-led initiative, and how it has affected our community at Ryerson. Our presentation received great feedback and I was so happy to see that many other institutions all over Canada were also striving to provide more mental health support towards their students. Being a student studying internationally who has personally struggled with many of these issues, shows me that this is something that is being looked at as a serious subject and that hard work is being put towards its improvement.
Palm sweating, heart beating, eyes beaming everywhere, and thinking, ”Where do I even begin?” These were just some of the many thoughts that were running through my mind as I attended CBIE’s opening networking reception, at the beautiful venue overlooking the ever famous Niagara Falls.
CBIE is the conference for international education professionals and stakeholders to come together. Not only was it my first time attending a conference that had representation from over 40 countries and 800+ delegates, but the first time presenting at a conference this large.
For an introvert like myself, putting myself out there and representing your institution can be extremely daunting and overwhelming. I felt like a small fish in a big pond.
International education is a new world to me, and I find myself in a new realm of endless learning and possibility. I can definitely say I felt anxious, vulnerable, and excited all at the same time while attending the conference.
What helped me most was the peer mentoring that I have received from colleagues and friends at #RyersonSA. While attending the conference, I noticed some parallels with RyersonSA’s 5 Pillars and made some interesting connections between the two.
International education has its own community. How could I feel a sense of belonging in a community that I just joined? When everyone around mehas networks within CBIE, and have been to this conference before?
The International Network of Tomorrow’s Leaders (INTL) is a professional learning community of CBIE. “The mission of INTL is to provide an environment for new professionals and emerging leaders to cultivate professional networks and engage themselves in the community of Canadian international education.”
I had the privilege of being part of the working associates for the Mentorship Portfolio. Our working group have members in different cities and even provinces working together. Conferences like CBIE allowed us to meet in person rather than behind a screen. Knowing I was attending a conference that I will know familiar faces—some of whom are new professionals in the field like me—gave me a sense of relief.
Conferences like this always open your eyes. I realized there is always an opportunity to exchange information and learn what other institutions are doing, as we all have room for improvements. It was an opportunity to exchange information and hear about what other institutions are doing on their campus, and vice-versa. You realize everyone is there for a common interest, to network and take away learning.
The opportunity to create networks with other members in the international education field is another reason why people attend conferences, however, creating networks in such a large capacity can be intimidating.
Presenting can be a conversation starter. It allowed me to break the ice or awkward silence. It allows the conversation to go beyond “Hi, my name is…”. We are able to connect about a common interest.
Needless to say I was nervous to every last bone in my body. Even though I knew the material and practiced, I was still nervous. Sanford’s Challenge and Support Theory says that for personal development and growth to happen we need a balance between challenge and support. Too little support when encountering a challenge can be frustrating and too much support cannot result in growth. I knew this is a skill that I can grow if given the opportunity.
Overall, what I learned from the conference was that we often say students studying internationally are in a bubble where they don’t interact with domestic students. I can definitely play this into my day to day work as an advisor. We need to stay away from our own bubble, and our own comfort zone. Thus try to connect and build relationships with not only campus partners, but partners that can be found in other institutions. We are all here to support students.
This was my second time participating in this nation-wide conference where professionals from the international education field gather together for three days to exchange thoughts, learn from each other, receive crucial up-to-date information, and build and strengthen networks.
Led by this year’s theme—“Global Engagement: Crossing Borders, Connecting Generations”—ideas on internationalization were deeply discussed and compared. Internationalization of post-secondary education is deemed as the process of integrating an international, intercultural, and global dimension into the purpose, factions, or delivery of post-secondary education. It promotes diversity in the society, international networking, and improves competitiveness and innovativeness.
There have been many initiatives of internationalization put into place, such as cross-border collaborative arrangements, programming for students studying internationally, etc. Those initiatives are motivated by knowledge and language acquisition, enhancing the curriculum with international content, and many others. With regards to the forms/styles, internationalization includes the policies and practices undertaken by academic systems, institutions, and even how individuals cope with the global academic environment.
Hitting A Personal Note
Speaking of the individual practices, I am one of many who have benefited from the internationalization of post-secondary education. Being at Niagara Falls this time brings back the memory about my first trip to Canada seven years ago as a landed immigrant. I still clearly remember how excited I was when I visited the falls for the first time. I was astonished by the crashing waves and the breathtaking views of the falls. This amazing natural attraction made me fall in love with the country. Back then, I was just a fresh university graduate who barely knew anything about Canada, but understood that I will take root on this land all by myself. I did not expect that one day I could revisit this place as a professional who strives to contribute to global engagement and internationalization for this country. Thanks to the years of higher education I received under two different academic systems, including a study abroad experience to a third country, I have broadened my horizon and learnt more about the world. Today, like other professionals of international education, I am making efforts to implement international initiatives, and to ensure student development and a high quality transitional experience are integral to the international higher education environment.
My big take away from the conference is the importance of intercultural competencies in post-secondary education as this issue can be a unique hurdle in student development not only for international students, but any student likely to participate in an ever increasing global economy. Students nowadays are living in multicultural settings but lack intercultural competencies. These competencies lead to openness to diversities and engaging in other people’s cultures. Being able to be open, tolerant, and welcoming of other cultures is as crucial as receiving high academic achievement. Students need to be educated to “access the otherness”, and need to understand the bigger opportunities accompanied by internationalization.
The first day in my life as a working mom was at the 49th annual CBIE conference held in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Many things were swirling in my head that day as I felt professionally insecure having been away from my profession for a year, yet anxious at the reality of being separated from my infant daughter for longer than any other time in her life. How would I manage, and excel, at both roles?
Kindness was the best remedy for my anxiety. The kindness shown to me by colleagues within the #RyersonSA family and from external institutions helped build my confidence as an international educator and student affairs professional and reminded me that returning to the field as a working-mom adds fresh perspective, and is not, in any way, a detriment.
#RyersonSA has provided me with so much support balancing parenthood and career, and I was very grateful at the support I received to not only join a panel presentation, but to do so while on leave from the University. I felt encouraged when #RyersonSA colleagues took the time to come listen to my panel presentation.
The Woman With A Baby
I instantly became recognizable as the woman with the baby, and was always the popular person to sit beside—with baby lovers and parents alike—and forged new connections while providing practical advice to several other parents-to-be. The highlight of this positive attention was when a colleague from out of province complimented me to my manager and director for preparing a presentation while simultaneously breastfeeding the baby in the hotel lobby! Hearing this made me think, “I nailed it!” It really built my confidence and made me feel that yes, I can excel at work while parenting an infant!
Respect for Jennifer Humphries
I have deep admiration and respect for CBIE, and in particular Jennifer Humphries, the Vice President, Membership, Public Policy, and Communications who has been serving CBIE for 34 years, and is always approachable to rank-and-file members; in particular with The International Network of Tomorrow’s Leaders (INTL) that provides so much crucial support to new professionals. Humphries moderated the immigration session which provided crucial updates from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. This provided me with great refreshers and important updates in my field, in particular on the licensing of International Student Advisors and the upcoming RISIA exam that all international student advisors must write.
I learned a great deal from my fellow presenters, Michelle Suderman, Director of UBC International Student Development and Lisa Deacon, a researcher at CBIE. By combining our expertise, we discussed helpful tips for conducting assessment research such as how the use of cultural informants can be helpful when researching students studying internationally, how being an outside researcher (in this case Canadian) can be beneficial—especially considering power dynamics within an intercultural context—how advantageous Campus Labs is when organizing assessment projects, the benefits of an ethics review, and useful resources and data from other provinces and institutions.
The other sessions allowed me to learn some fabulous ideas for improving student engagement in our programs, and trendy topics in international education that I am passionate about; such as mental health and sexual assault.
What did I get most out of this conference? It was building confidence in my own skills as a student affairs professional, making connections, and ensuring that my knowledge as an educator remains up-to-date. As I was leaving the conference, I was told for the first time in my life that I’m an amazing storyteller, which gives me assurance in my role as a student affairs professional.