Guiding students through the journey to post-secondary education in Canada and the Canadian labour market
By Julie Doucette
To a 16-year-old student, moving to Canada can be overwhelming. Without parents, friends or family and often immersed in a new language and culture, the journey can be daunting. However, each year, many students make the trek from their home country to Canada to become international students in high school. After overcoming language barriers, climate change and cultural diversity, many fall in love with Canada. What are their goals after this? Some want to attend a Canadian post-secondary institution. Others wish to go back to their home countries to complete their formal education, and then return to Canada. As school counsellors, how can we best guide them and support their goals?
Staying in Canada
When students tell me they want to complete their high school education in Canada and go to a Canadian post-secondary institution, the first thing I do is verify their graduation requirements. We need to review their grade 11 and 12 credits to assure us they meet provincially determined New Brunswick graduation requirements and ensure they have the required credit courses to be accepted to the post-secondary institution of their choice.
After we have verified key graduation requirements, we begin to search for the optimal post-secondary institution. Certain criteria must be researched. What do they want to study? Do they want to live in an urban or rural area? What are the specific requirements for international students? What English language testing must they complete? If they are required to do English testing, it usually must be done at the beginning of grade 12 so results will be available for admissions counsellors.
While there are no language obstacles on the Canadian websites, one of my roles is to help students navigate ethnicity factors. Most of these students approach me with a desire to move to Toronto or Vancouver, two cities with large international populations. I usually suggest a visit to local universities and colleges to meet with an international student recruiter to best understand the academic, social and cultural components of the institution. An informed decision is vital to long-term success and far more important than quick decisions based on first impressions or pre-conceived ideas.
In my job, I also have a chance to work with students who have relocated with their families. When we have new-to-Canada students coming to ask questions about post-secondary institutions, the question of citizenship will always arise. Even if they have been a resident of New Brunswick for three years, if they are not a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen, they must pay international student fees. For some students, this might encourage them to start the process of citizenship sooner. I usually suggest students start looking at citizenship in grade 10. Citizenship requirements are challenging and must include permanent residency for at least four years, language testing in English or French, knowledge testing about Canada, as well as criminal or background checks. Citizenship information can be found at cic.gc.ca/english/citizenship/become.asp. Wait time is also an important consideration.While it may vary, currently, there is 12-month wait.
However, many of these items cannot be controlled by us. It is the responsibility of the family to go through the steps of citizenship. I might work with a family where the parents do not have the necessary language skills. Because the student must apply at the same time as their parent, this might not be feasible. Some universities encourage students to receive their citizenship so that student fees will be lower. This also becomes my focus so students can be eligible for scholarships and bursaries. When reading the eligibility criteria for most scholarships, students will notice that they have to be a citizen of Canada to be able to apply. Yes, they are still eligible for student loans, but not many of them can pay an extra $8,500 per year for four years. Most of them will opt for a college-level course, while their hopes and dreams point towards university. I work to counsel them through these, and many more stressful situations.
Returning to their home country
When students tell me they want to go back to their home country, but wish to return to Canada after post-secondary education is complete, together we try to find a college or university that has similar standards as Canadian post-secondary institutions. This depends on the country and the desired program. I caution them on programs that require national testing (fields such as medicine or law, for example) as our Canadian certification boards may not accept their diplomas. Even though they might be a nurse or a firefighter in their country, they could be asked to either complete the final assessment or return to post-secondary for a few courses.
As a school counsellor, my issue is often the language barrier. As an example, if a student wants to return to China, it is difficult for me to personally research, as most websites are in Chinese. I also do not have access to background information about the institutions. Are they known for certain programs? Are they in a safe and convenient location? How much is tuition? How much will it cost to live in this place (lodging, food, travel)? How will the institutions best respond to the needs of the students? This is where the students must take action. While we ask them to be active throughout the entire process, some students need to have tasks assigned to become more engaged. They must do their “homework” and seek answers to these questions, then bring their findings back to me so we can discuss options. At this point, I always suggest also having the parents involved in the discussion, either with my help or through the student. At age 18, a post-secondary decision is difficult to make and seems so final.
Finding work in Canada
Job opportunities also require attention. I encourage international students to stay in New Brunswick by looking at the Government of New Brunswick’s Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Occupational Profiles (www1.gnb.ca/0105/op-pp/). I also connect them with local international organizations, such as MAGMA (Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area) or other community outreach agencies. Networking opportunities such as co-operative education courses in high school are a great way for students to gain connections, experience and passion. They may not have the permanent residency yet to get a part-time job, so this might be their first introduction to work. There are many research initiatives available through the universities which would introduce international students to agencies and opportunities in their own municipality. The biggest help for students to find employment is a strong support system. With adults that can guide them toward the correct agencies and associations, I trust that they can make an informed decision.
Through my years as a counsellor in large high school populations, I have met many international students. Some work toward a once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange experience by coming to Canada to live with a host family for a semester. Others come to see if Canada is a place where they might hope to build a future. Some come with the intent to never return to their home countries. No matter what the objective, my role is to help all students achieve their career goals and ambitions. From the beginning, I am honest. I do not pretend to be all-knowing, but in partnership with the students, my commitment is to share my knowledge, provide networking opportunities, and best ensure a rewarding academic and cultural journey.
Julie Doucette is a School Counsellor in Riverview, NB. She has been a teacher, as well as a counsellor since 2005. She has worked primarily as a personal and career/post-secondary counsellor since 2012. She currently works at a large high school.