How Seneca’s international students can keep their cool

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As a student of the Public Relations, Corporate Communications program at Seneca, I can attest to the fact that it is a rather challenging endeavor. The post-graduate program takes place over a year and contains seven communications and public relations-related courses per semester. The assignments are plentiful, the group work is grueling and the deadlines are hard to meet.

With the highest enrollment of international students in Canada, Seneca College’s student population represents more than 75 countries across the globe. As an immigrant myself and someone who works within the settlement sector, I was interested in learning about the various difficulties that international students face in a program like this.

The challenge of coming to a new country, dealing with culture shock and cultural differences and the lack of established support undoubtedly put a strain on these students. For example, friends and family are part of all students’ lives and help us get through some of the difficult aspects of the life.

Looking around me at Seneca, it struck me recently that international students are not afforded the luxury of being able to confide, vent and relax with their loved ones. Also, the language or dialect barriers that students face must be challenging at best and incredibly frustrating at the worst. While they can always make new friends, being in a new country with different rules, norms and values can be undoubtedly challenging.

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However, there are steps international students can take to improve their situation. In my section, there are two stand-out international students hailing from Ukraine. Bright, enthusiastic and confident, Iryna Zheliasko and Lina Murashka appear to be handling the pressures very well – in fact, they seem to handle it better than many Canadian students! Recently, I sat down with them to learn more about their experience in this program.

First, I wanted to know why they were interested in this program.

Zheliasko, 20 says “I’ve always viewed communications as the thing I want to do in my life. I majored with a Bachelor of Linguistics, and I wanted my postgraduate to diversify and add depth to my skills.”

“Public relations is my passion and that’s why I chose this program in the first place,” she adds. “Plus, it lasts only one year, which is very convenient after four years in university.”

Murashka, also 20, says “I was attracted to the program because I’m interested in how a company works with the different stakeholders from a communications perspective.”

“The flexible nature of Public Relations made it appealing to me. I enjoy working with people, and the skills taught in this program can be applied to many occupations, as they are desired in many different job opportunities. “

I asked them what misconceptions they had about the program, things that they were proven wrong about.

Zheliasko says, “I don’t think I’ve had any misconceptions of the experience. Honestly, everything is practically like I imagined it to be. As for Toronto, I totally didn’t expect it to be so green and beautiful!  I love the nature here.”

I asked them what they liked about the program and they said that they enjoy that the program is short. They also liked how the program focused on how to apply theory to practice. “It’s pretty much about problem-based learning, which makes it pretty much about life,” says Zheliasko.

When it comes to differences, they also mention preferring Ukranian supermarkets and being shocked by the transportation system. These are not, however, overwhelming problems.

“Still, I found out that there are lots of Ukrainian and Russian supermarkets here with imported goods, so now that problem is not that huge for me,” explains Murashka.

My conversation, so far, has taught me a lot. It seems these girls are doing very well in the program, with the courses fitting their expectations and without much shock from the culture. How did they do it? I believe their experience serves as lessons for all international students.

The women have been friends since prior to their arrival in Canada and are each other’s support systems. They also keep in close touch with their families and friends, through Skype and other social media. They were prepared for the program’s challenges and were well informed, not surprised by the pace, content and teaching style of the courses. They also enjoy Toronto’s nature and diversity of resources.

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I encourage international students to learn from these lessons. Clearly, taking the time to check in with friends and family back home, keeping surprises to a minimum and being proactive can help international students be successful in this program.

Additionally, I encourage students to enjoy the program by working hard and taking challenges in stride. I believe we can all overcome the challenges we face if armed with a good attitude.

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