Welcoming WUSC Scholars into the Ryerson Community
Going Glocal: International Education Week is a series celebrating the partnerships that International Student Support (ISS) shares with colleagues and units across RyersonSA, all in support of students studying internationally from around the world. This year, the Canadian Bureau of International Education honoured ISS for their Glocal Links program by awarding them the Panorama Award for Outstanding International Education Program.
Participating in the World University Service of Canada’s (WUSC) Student Refugee Program (SRP) has become somewhat of a Canadian tradition on campuses across the country. Since 1978, when the SRP program was launched, WUSC has assisted more than 1,400 young men and women from refugee backgrounds to access post-secondary educational opportunities and resettlement in Canada. A whopping 160 of these students were welcomed to over 70 campuses across Canada in 2016 alone, representing a significant increase in numbers of both students and participating campuses from previous years. As the number of youth from refugee backgrounds seeking post-secondary education opportunities in Canada is on the rise, we must be prepared to foster a welcoming and supportive community for incoming students on our campuses.
At Ryerson, we are fortunate enough to have welcomed two very bright WUSC scholars to our community this year. Ryerson has accepted a total of nine scholars since 2010, when we established a WUSC Local Committee on campus, consisting of dedicated student leaders and staff advisors. One of the main purposes of this committee is to support the WUSC scholars’ resettlement in Canada and on campus. We expect to welcome more scholars in 2017 and in the years to come.
International Student Support (ISS) has embraced the role of staff advisor to the WUSC Local Committee at Ryerson. Our office works to empower students who are brand new to Canada to realize their infinite potential, so that this partnership has become a perfect fit. While WUSC scholars—which is the term we use to refer to the selected SRP students—are newcomers to Canada, there are some key factors that differentiate them from international students. Two specific differences are the admissions process and their immigration status. Like international students, SRP candidates go through a rigorous application process in order to be considered for selection. They are evaluated on their academics and official language competency, however, unlike international students, they are also evaluated on their ability to be self-reliant and thrive in a new country and culture.
Thousands of students apply to the SRP each year and just a handful are selected to have their applications considered by campuses across Canada. Upon selection, they are required to complete a full year of pre-departure orientation with other WUSC scholars in their region in order to prepare for the journey ahead. A few weeks before the fall semester commences, WUSC scholars say their goodbyes to family and friends, often not knowing when they will see them again, and travel to Canada together to begin their road to post-secondary education. When the scholars arrive in Canada, they are granted the status of a permanent resident (which is different from a student studying internationally who holds a temporary status in Canada through a study permit). The scholars are allotted this status because WUSC has a long standing agreement with Immigration, Refugees Citizenship and Canada (IRCC) as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder, effectively allowing the organization to sponsor the students for permanent residence. This is similar to the way in which private citizens can sponsor or co-sponsor refugees to resettle in Canada through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program by agreeing to support their resettlement for a period of one year upon their arrival in Canada.
Although the move to Canada to begin university is an anticipated transition for the scholars, Schlossberg’s Transition Theory reminds us that we must recognize the context and impact of the transition on the individual as each person will experience this journey in a different way. Some scholars may be more affected by “transition shock” than others, which J.M. Bennett defines as, “a state of loss and disorientation precipitated by a change in one’s familiar environment that requires adjustment.” With the support of the WUSC Local Committee, ISS prepares to welcome the scholars and put in place a warm, supportive, and empowering environment from the moment the scholars land in Canada. The two groups coordinate to ensure that the SRP’s four pillars are carried out to support the students’ successful transition. These pillars fall in line with the five pillars of Ryerson Student Affairs, which include providing the following:
Academic Guidance (Learning)
WUSC Scholars are introduced to their faculty advisors within the first few weeks of arriving so they are aware where they can go to seek guidance, support, and information related to their academic goals and achievements. In addition, they are provided a full academic orientation by students on the WUSC Local Committee. This orientation provides the WUSC scholars with information on everything from the library to services offered by Student Learning Support to using D2L for online components of classes and everything in between.
Financial Support (Professional Development)
During their first year of studies, WUSC scholars receive a small stipend to support their living expenses. We support them in developing a budget and once the students have settled in, they embark on their professional development journey, often with the objective to secure part-time employment and further develop their skills for the workplace. ISS and the Career Centre collaborate to assist the WUSC scholars to create and/or perfect their resumes and cover letters and help them enhance their interview skills.
Moral / Social Support (Community)
In order to assist in fostering a sense of community in the WUSC scholars’ home away from home, ISS works closely with Housing & Residence Life (HRL) as all scholars spend their first academic year in one of Ryerson’s residence buildings on campus. Should any concerns arise, ISS and HRL work together to provide holistic support for the individuals. The Residence Advisors (RAs) are notified if they have a WUSC scholar living on their floor, and their arrival date. The RA will welcome the WUSC scholar on their move-in day and explain how their role is to provide support in the scholar’s new home. The RAs will support the WUSC scholar’s transition into residence through programming with the goal to promote a sense of belonging.
Post-Sponsorship Support (Personal Development; Mental Well-Being)
Like any newcomer student, WUSC scholars’ first year in Canada can be a bit of a roller coaster as many may experience “change overload”, a term used by Hess and Linderman with respect to individuals’ feelings upon relocating abroad. At ISS, we focus on the personal development pillar, which concentrates on developing the whole person in a social and self-reliant construct. We support WUSC scholars throughout their journey at Ryerson in a variety of capacities and understand that there will be bumps along the way. These bumps often emerge after the honeymoon period, which can coincide with the “post-sponsorship” period.
This period begins a year after the scholars arrive in Canada and also marks the time that they stop receiving a stipend. New WUSC scholars begin to arrive on campus and the attention can shift to these new arrivals. We remind our students about the importance of working toward a feeling of personal wellness and provide warm referrals to our colleagues in Student Health & Wellness, where needed. While there are so many systems of support available on campus, we recognize that students must also be able to rely on themselves. We encourage WUSC scholars to use the five factor model of resilience, created by Dr. Diana Brecher, which consists of gratitude, compassion, grit, mindfulness, and optimism to support their personal development journey.
While the circumstances of a WUSC scholar may be unique, at the end of the day they are students just like any other student on campus. They share the same concerns that other students have—getting good grades and passing their classes, finding a part-time job, making friends, and preparing. In Student Affairs, we are committed to using the five pillars to help all students find opportunities to create their narrative and success, which includes fostering a welcoming and supportive community.
Soon after arriving, one of this year’s WUSC scholars put our intentions into words, saying, “Ryerson is conducive to learning, so it will be a smooth journey. With the help of the WUSC staff, ISS, and the Ryerson team, we’ll be able to transition and finish our degrees.”