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October 1, 2012 11:44 AM

International students choose Conestoga

Travelling thousands of miles away from her home in Sichuan Province, China, Yuexiao (Rosiel) Tang had never seen Canada before. She had heard stories and seen pictures, but the young student had no idea that the country that was about to become her new home would greatly benefit from her decision to study at Conestoga.

Alan Vaughan, vice president of enrolment management and international education at Conestoga, understands that students like Rosiel are important to Waterloo Region and Canada’s future. Vaughan is leading Conestoga’s efforts to enroll more international students to meet growing demands and support the globalization of the programs. First-year enrolments of international students increased 65 per cent in 2012 over 2011.

A recent column in the Globe and Mail highlighted the growing importance that international programs and students at post-secondary institutions are playing in Canada’s future. Writer Amit Chakma, president of Western University and chair of the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, outlines the many contributions made by international students to the Canadian economy, its culture and its education system. He suggests that Canada needs to put a greater focus on globalization, doubling the number of international students by 2022.

Vaughan agrees with Chakma’s suggestion that studying and engaging with the best young minds from around the world also enriches the lives of Canadian students, and will help them to succeed in global economies. “It’s two-way,” Vaughan said, “We want more Canadian students to also be getting experiences in the rest of the world as part of their education. Even though many of our students are Canadian (two-thirds come from Waterloo region), it is a world economy. You may still live and work locally, but you need a global perspective now more than ever.”

Tang, now a full-time student in the Business Administration - Marketing program, sees the benefit as well. She believes that coming to Conestoga has given her a broader view of the world: “The multicultural background makes me feel like there is acceptance, a feeling of belonging. There are a lot of people from different cultures and countries and it has helped me to discover this world.”

Tang, like many of Conestoga’s international students, has found her Canadian experience very rewarding, and hopes to remain here when her studies are completed. “I am actually trying my best to stay in Canada,” she said. “I love Canada so I want to find a job at a bank or something like that and stay here.”

According to Vaughan, staying in Canada is the goal of most of the students who come here. “A fair number would stay and that has been a big part of Canada’s immigration policy. Once they graduate, students can get up to a three-year work permit after two years of study.”

International students currently make up approximately 7 per cent of Conestoga’s student population According to Vaughan, the institution’s goal is to increase that percentage, with the ultimate objective of becoming a top contributor of employees to the job market, either locally or in areas of need across the country. “Their [the students] goal might be to stay in Canada, not necessarily in this region, but to get their work permit, get an international experience and possibly go where the jobs are in Canada.”

For more information on the International Program at Conestoga College, visit the International Office website.

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