Last year was the third time Benjamin McDonald, Red River College’s Students’ Association’s president, hosted a Thanksgiving and a Christmas dinner at his house. He invited ten international students to go to his house and experience these two Canadian traditions.
“There’s a lot of struggles. They don’t have family here. They might not have a lot of friends here,” he said.
The biggest benefits to having contact with international students at the college are, according to McDonald, it immediately takes down barriers and misperceptions.
“You don’t know these people. And it’s easy to be against something when it doesn’t have a face. When you don’t know its name. When it doesn’t talk to you or sell you groceries,” he said.
He said diversity is a bonus to the school environment because the more people you can have generating ideas, the better it is for Canada.
“Immigration is a solution to grow our economy. People have different expertises.
McDonald said international students are very involved in volunteer groups, especially the Cultural Mentorship program. However, there’s a struggle to get domestic students. McDonald said that from his perspective, it’s not a matter of disinterest, it’s a matter of lack of time.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of wanting to help people. I think it’s because of personal reasons,” he said. “I think it’s about scheduling or having a job on top of their studies, but not racism.”
McDonald said in addition to cultural differences, domestic and international students have different motivations and priorities.
The Cultural Mentorship program gets more applications from international students because they want to get immersed in the culture. Because some can’t work, they might have extra time whereas domestic students focus on getting school done and then get entertainment.
McDonald has a lot of friends who are international students. He said the college events he went helped build their relationship and become real friends.
He said he and his friend, who is from Colombia, are pretty much the same person. They like the same things, they do the same things, they even married spouses that are very similar.
“I realized that this person who grew up in a totally different way than me is very similar to me,” said McDonald. “I learned things that I didn’t know otherwise and it challenged my own beliefs.”