Wilfrid Laurier’s Brantford campus has a strong history with an international student program known as the Laurier English and Academic Foundation (LEAF), making it an especially inclusive campus and an ideal place to meet new people and learn about new cultures. However, beyond this, there is a less known program called the Language Support Program unique to Brantford, one designed to help integrate international students deeper into the community of the University.
“We pair international students who have trouble with English with volunteers from the campus, and they meet up and chat. Sometimes about school, sometimes about life, anything really,” says Karley Doucette, co-ordinator of Writing and Learning Support.
Doucette describes the program as an outlet for international students who join the campus through the LEAF program to get more involved in campus life and build their confidence in interacting with primarily English speaking students. By extension, helping them to feel more involved in the bigger community as opposed to distanced.
But why Brantford for a program like this? What does Brantford have this over the Waterloo campus?
“It’s definitely a smaller community here than Waterloo, and I think that helps international students adjust more easily,” Doucette explains. She believes the transition process is much easier in the smaller campus environment, and that the location is just by nature more relaxed, making for a much less stressful environment.
Doucette primarily manages the undergraduate volunteers on campus interested in meeting with international students for the sake of the program. “We try to pair them up for one-on-one meetings, one person is a lot less scary to get to know versus a giant community,” she says. “It’s typically up to the LEAF student how they get paired, if there’s a girl in LEAF who would rather talk with another girl or a boy who’d rather be paired with a boy we try to make that happen.”
“Typically there are more LEAF students than undergrad volunteers, so sometimes volunteers are assigned multiple students if they feel they can handle it and schedules allow it, but they would meet separately obviously,” says Doucette. She says that the uneven ratio is likely because of how few people actually know the program exists. “I try to advertise in the weekly news, it’s just sometimes not enough depending how many people actually read it.”
The students who volunteer are trained to be role models for the international students, as well as to show them the services that Laurier Brantford has to offer. “If an international student is feeling homesick or depressed for instance, the volunteers know to direct them to the health and Wellness Centre. We also get the volunteers to sign a confidentiality agreement to make sure personal stuff stays personal,” says Doucette. “The volunteers are great people, great students, model students.”
There are two different branches of Laurier Brantford’s Language Support Program. One for direct assistance with school work, note taking and studying, whereas the other is for more personal interactions. “There isn’t really any restriction on what can be talked about of course,” says Doucette. “Just in one case it’s more intended for academic help, and the other the students can go shopping or something, go to lunch, just generally learn about each other’s respective cultures.”
Each branch of the program operates by having the students meet up, chat for a while and work on school. “I get volunteers to write a reflection piece too that they email to me after each meeting, just to keep me up to date on what’s happening,” says Doucette.
The Language Support program is, according to Doucette, a great way to build up a resume and volunteer experience for undergrads interested in applying, and by extension, a great way to meet new friends and learn about new cultures.