International students share their experiences with diversity at Western
Amin Biparva describes his experience as an international student at Western as one that has been both exceptional and challenging.
“There have been some cultural gaps and I’ve struggled a bit since I came here,” said Biparva, who travelled to Western from Iran in April for the Master’s in Civil Engineering Program.
“Your family isn’t with you and you don’t have your friends from home. You try to branch out away from people from your home country to meet people from other countries to practice English, but then you might get left out. Making friends can be difficult and making connections can be tricky.”
Biparva and five other undergraduate and graduate international students - Elmond Bandauko, Freya Wang, Panashe Nyaude, Grace Meza and Inaara Savani - all shared their insights as part of a student panel for a webinar focused on equity, diversity, inclusion and the impact on the international student experience which was held on November 15 as a special kick-off to International Week at Western.
“For the most part, my experience has been positive. Being an international student and coming to Canada by myself has taught me a lot of resilience and so many other things along the way. Throughout my time in Canada I have become more confident and found my voice,” Savani said.
The virtual event featured Dr. Opiyo Oloya, Western’s Associate Vice-President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, who shared his story as a newcomer to Canada and then engaged in conversation with the students, asking them at one point what they would change at Western “if they had a magic wand.”
“For me, I haven’t always felt like I was included and represented in the classroom,” said Bandauko. “We don’t see diversity in every faculty and program and that doesn’t always feel welcoming. I would love to see more of a balance and representation in materials.”
Panelists also discussed the desire for better integration between national and international students and wondered what could be done to motivate both groups to see the value in intercultural sharing and learning.
“Sometimes people want to learn about other cultures and ask questions, but there are subtle micro-aggressions and it’s not necessarily intentional,” said Savani. “We’re all global leaders and at some point the world is going to be so diverse we are all going to interact with different people. So when we are enriching ourselves, we are very much prepared to be powerful and successful leaders in our future.”
Nyaude, who also shared some of her experiences, agreed, saying, “Our differences are not our deficiencies. That is what I want my fellow students to know.”
Although all in the session agreed challenges exist, they also expressed hope that discussions like this and other efforts to address challenges are steps in the right direction.
“International students are a big part of who we are at Western. They bring an international dimension, a global perspective, that enriches all of us. For this reason, it is critically important that international students feel welcome and are welcome at Western. And that every effort is made to include them in all aspects of living, learning and playing,” said Oloya.
“There’s a lot to be done to show that the world is a much bigger place and we need to reflect cultures at Western,” he said. “It’s important to bring in other voices so everyone has an opportunity to see the diversity that’s out there more broadly, as well as at Western.”
Meet the panelists
- Elmond Bandauko, PhD student, Geography and Environment, from Zimbabwe
- Freya Wang, 4th-year student, Social Science, from China
- Amin Biparva, Master’s student in Civil Engineering, from Iran
- Panashe Nyaude, 4th-year student, double major in DAN Management and Organizational Studies, and Health Sciences, Brescia University College, from Zimbabwe
- Grace Meza, 4th-year student, Community Development, Brescia University College, from Ecuador
- Inaara Savani, 4th-year student, International Relations, from Kenya