Culture and Community as an International Student
When studying abroad, finding community may seem daunting at first. However, sharing cultural traditions and practices with others is a way to connect and empower both international and domestic students. As an International Student Representative in the Larger Leadership Team at Conrad Grebel University College, Jane now supports international students who live in residence at Grebel and plans cultural events at the College.
Jane is a 4th year Honours Physics student who came from China to the University of Waterloo. She eventually settled in Grebel after finding a powerful sense of community and support for international students. “I’ve tried many other residences and lived off campus. Once I found Grebel, it immediately caught my eye,” said Jane. “It looked like a place where I would be comfortable. I love the art, music, and people here. People want to help each other. It is different from other residences.”
Grebel strives to provide transformative experiences for all students and has invested in physical spaces to make the campus inclusive, accessible, and welcoming. This has become one of the highlights of the Grebel experience for Jane. “One of the important things I want international students to know about Grebel is how convenient the building is,” she noted. “We have a library, many music practice rooms and pianos, silent study spaces, student services, and a cafeteria all in one place. It saves me a lot of time, and it feels very safe.”
Outside of her academic endeavors in physics, Jane desires to lead an artistic life. This is why she especially appreciates the abundance of piano and music rooms in residence, as she can simply walk downstairs from her dorm to play piano or guqin, a traditional Chinese instrument. As a lover of music, she found many people at Grebel who share the same sentiment and hold music events. “I would sometimes go back to Grebel after a stressful day of lectures and people would be playing a piano in the dining room during dinner. It was really healing,” she expressed. Jane also encouraged those interested in music events to attend Noon Hour Concerts.
Jane is also well-versed in Chinese painting and calligraphy, so she established the Traditional Chinese Ink Wash Painting Club at UWaterloo. When she came to Grebel, she found that event planning was more efficient and enjoyable. “I really like this supportive event environment. At Grebel, organizing events is energizing since I work more closely with a team than I did before,” shared Jane. In late February, Jane planned a Chinese Culture Hour at Grebel where many international Chinese students came together and domestic students learned about Chinese art, practiced Chinese calligraphy, listened to traditional music, and attended small workshops.
Since moving into Grebel, Jane has felt integrated with staff and students. She noted that sharing a meal is where she could most easily connect with the community. “For international students, eating alongside local students allows you to step out of your comfort zone. That is the reason we try to study abroad—it gives us more experience in communicating and an opportunity to learn about Canadian culture,” she said.
“There are a lot of small details here that just add up to make Grebel an incredibly supportive place. This is especially true for international students because a lot of us do not have family members or close friends in Canada yet,” said Jane. “Grebel is like another home, with a lot of opportunities to enrich your university experience.”
By Farah Jurdi