The Fireplace Channel: Canadian Students’ International Experience

How many friends from school do you have that are studying abroad outside of Canada? Now, how many friends from school do you have that are international students in Canada?

That’s what I thought.

And I’m not the only one. After reading this article (which emphasizes Canada’s lack of dedication to post-secondary international education, and how this can hurt our economy and chances of remaining competitive in the global market), I was surprised to find how dramatic the differences were between Canadian students’ international study experiences and the rest of the world’s international experience.

“While the number of international students coming to Canada is rising, only 3 per cent of Canadian students are going abroad on international study programs or exchanges, one of the lowest numbers among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.” – Simona Chiose

Three percent of Canadian students doesn’t seem too shabby when examined in isolation. But compared to our Southern neighbours, the United States’ number of international students, 10 percent, or to Germany’s staggering 30 percent (with plans to increase that number to 50 percent)… I mean, we could do better.

The real shocker though, for me, wasn’t in the embarrassingly-low numbers, or the fact that we haven’t made much progress, it was in the way we see “international experience.”

When someone says, “Canada,” immediately, beavers, maple syrup, hockey, snow, and importantly, diversity comes to mind. The tossed salad, and all that. We’ve got China towns and little Indias, festivals of International Cultures and school-wide celebrations of diversity. But how deeply do we value international experience? What do our educational choices say about our values?

“That diversity has in some sense lulled Canadian educators and parents into a sense that students can get international experience just from going to school. That’s a false sense of international education and cannot substitute for living in a foreign country and being forced to adapt to different ways of living,” Mr. Woo said.

In the context of our EDS220 classroom, this article reminded me a lot of our guest speaker, Matthew’s points on Multiculturalism vs. Anti-Racism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that we are inherently racist for choosing to study at home, I’m simply wondering if there is a connection between the way we frame our ideas about how to “celebrate our differences,” and the way we decide what experiences are “valuable” in terms of post-secondary education.

Where Multiculturalism recognizes cultural differences (although Matthew brought up a valuable point: who is recognizing whom?), Anti-Racism challenges the assumption of “white” as normal. What better way to challenge that assumption than to throw yourself into a world where “white” is anything but normal?

To me, the widely held belief that Canada is “multicultural enough,” and that there’s “no need to travel, because we’ve got it all right here at home,” is a lot like the Fireplace Channel on television. You’re in the comfort of your own home, and you can see the “fire” in front of you. You know that it’s warm, you’ve been told that. But are you feeling it’s warmth? Are you aware of its danger? Have you truly experienced fire?

No. You haven’t.

Turn off the television, folks. Go be like a traveler.

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4 comments

  1. telwasa · February 22, 2016

    love your fireplace metaphor 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lizcoulson1972 · March 8, 2016

    The cover of your blog is just so lovely, Danah. I also appreciate the creative way you hook your reader into each article with an interesting anecdote or question! What an interesting topic and flip in perspective. This is just what I’m looking for in the blog, some new ideas and ways of thinking about our experiences in the world. The fire place analogy is brilliant. I can’t wait to read on! Liz

    Like

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