UVic International Commons launches new programs in collaborative effort

The International Commons (IC) in McPherson Library is launching more than 20 new programs this semester, says IC Program Co-ordinator Adam Yaghi. The most recent ones are English 135 and 101 drop-in help, academic advising, the English Conversation Café, and writing help. The IC aims to help integration of international students into the UVic community, using its programs in attempt to create greater diversity on campus.

The IC offers a variety of workshops, programs, consultations, and referrals to international undergraduate and graduate students. When Yaghi began his position as the IC program co-ordinator in July 2013, he kept in mind that the IC needs to consider the needs of students as its top priority. He recently restructured the website in a more interactive way, to make it as accessible as possible. Some of that restructuring includes event schedules that resemble flow charts and weekly calendars for students.

The newest program Yaghi intends to launch is the drop-in help sessions for English 135 and 101, courses that a number of international students are enrolled in. The drop-in sessions are the IC’s initiative in collaboration efforts with UVic’s Writing Centre and Department of English. The volunteer instructors of these sessions are UVic community workers, faculty members, and graduate students, devoting hours from their personal time to give support to students. Key volunteers include: Professor Richard Pickard, Candice Neveu, and Kylee-Anne Hingston, all of whom are instructors from the English Department; and Laurie Waye, who is the Writing Centre Manager with teaching experience in writing. Yaghi hopes this program will become permanent and find additional resources.

The most popular programs in the IC are conversation cafés, which are open to everyone from both the UVic and Victoria communities. The most recent conversation café launched in the IC is for English. Facilitators, selected by their respective departments, are hoping this new conversation café will attract native and non-native students.

“We try to be inclusive, not exclusive,” says Yaghi. “It gives time to communicate and practise speaking while learning a new culture. Without having to travel abroad, the entire world is here and people present them. It’s a way of internationalizing the campus.” According to Yaghi, conversation cafés are experiencing beyond-satisfactory participation. Yaghi says that, out of 10 conversation cafés, Mandarin is especially popular, gathering over 50 people across the Victoria community. The Japanese Conversation Café has approximately 26–28 people, with a mixture of people learning Japanese and native speakers of the language. These numbers are followed by 17 participants in the German Conversation Café, and then 11 in Russian.

The IC’s other new projects include academic advising that takes place Fridays in room 151B of the McPherson Library. One advisor from the Faculties of Humanities, Science, or Social Sciences facilitates these sessions. Two sessions of writing help (offered through the Writing Centre) that give additional support to students are also planned to start on Nov. 4. Students can register online for a 25-minute appointment with a tutor who is versed in academic and scientific writing.

The IC doesn’t just help with language. It will also provide a new program called Survival Skills in Canadian Academe, which will address expectations of fellow students and instructors while dealing with culture shock as well. There will be nine workshops throughout the term, offered at specific times such as midterm week, since the IC is taking students’ lifecycle into account. The IC wishes to present the programs during the times students will need them most.

Not only are undergraduate and graduate students welcome, but faculty members are as well, as the IC offers faculty support. Yaghi also stresses the importance of working with faculty academics to facilitate learning at the IC. If it were not for their engagement and support, new programs like the English 135 drop-in would not have been able to kick off, he says.

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