By Elaine Smith
International students, are among the thousands of new students walking the York University campuses as the academic year begins. York is home to over 10,000 international students from about 178 countries worldwide and, this year, York is once again set to welcome over 2,000 international students.
“Each September, York has the privilege of welcoming new international students to the University and to Canada,” said Vinitha Gengatharan, Assistant Vice-President, Global Engagement & Partnerships. “This is a privilege we don’t take lightly. We know that each journey to Canada began well before a plane, train or car ride to Toronto. We appreciate the trust placed in choosing York and the years of hard work that our international students and their families have put in to make studying at York University, far from home, possible.
“International students bring incredible experience, perspective, talent, and skill to York and to Canada. Our community is better for this diversity of experiences, languages, cultures, and viewpoints. At the same time, we know that the challenges international students face can be difficult and different from those of our local students. Additional pressures, housing and finances, and adjusting to a new culture are just a few of the challenges that international students face.
“We know how important international students are to our community and how much strength and value they bring to York and to Canada. York is committed to continuing to advocate with our municipal, provincial, and federal governments to improve services, resources, and processes that impact international students.”
Nargis Rafie, who grew up in Afghanistan, came to Canada as a refugee. She transferred to York this fall to study computer science and is living off campus. After attending YI’s orientation for international and exchange students, as well as a shopping expedition to help students buy essentials, she expressed her delight.
“The campus is beautiful and the staff is very friendly, helpful and quick to respond,” Rafie said. “Orientation was a great experience and I’m glad I attended it. I can find my way to campus and around campus, and I learned useful things, such as getting a health insurance card, about how to get a student bank account and that there are deals available for internet service.
“I also met students from different countries with whom I plan to stay in touch; I have added them to my Instagram account so I can text them to hang out.”
Nigerian computer science student Fatima Yusuf transferred to York for her second year after attending another Ontario university.
“I wanted a school that had a co-op program and I wanted to be exposed to a more diverse group of people,” she said. “I volunteered at York’s orientation for international and exchange students, checking people at the registration desk. It was nice meeting different people, even briefly, and it was a diverse group.
“Everyone has been super-friendly and super-helpful. I’ve been to advising and it’s very accessible and very good. Now, I’m looking at clubs so I can get involved.”
Her twin sister, Khadija Yusuf, also transferred to York and will be studying commerce with an eye toward becoming an accountant.
“I felt that York had better opportunities: more people, more resources and more activities,” said Khadija.
She jumped right into action, volunteering at orientation and attending a special session for students at the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. She is already planning to join the accounting association and will see if her schedule permits other activities.
“I’m feeling good about my decision to come to York,” she said. “Everyone has been so nice and helpful, so it makes the transition easier.”
Recent international graduates of York are also enthusiastic about their student experience.
“York was one of my top choices,” said Svati Balaji, a native of India and a 2023 science graduate. “Since coming here, I have fallen in love with the city and the campus and have had lots of opportunities to get involved.
“I really came to York not knowing what I wanted and now, I feel prepared for the next number of years.”
After working in a residence office and as a residence don at York, Balaji is planning to work in a student life position at a Canadian University before attending graduate school.
Essete Makonnen Tesfaye, who grew up in Kenya and Uganda, came to York to study global health and graduated in 2023.
“The program was exactly what I hoped and it changed my view of the world,” she said. “It also expanded my view of health as I learned about the social determinants of health and how factors like system infrastructure, housing and the economy all have an impact.”
While she makes future career plans, Tesfaye remains on campus, working for the University as a residence life co-ordinator.
“I’m excited to be working in residence life and continuing to be at York,” she said. “This role gives me a chance to explore further what my passions are by taking a step back. I’ve been excited to see how community building ties in with health promotion. Whatever I decide to pursue afterward will be centred around community building and global health.”
Commitment to International Students
Welcoming international students is part of York University’s commitment to advancing global engagement, as stated in the University Academic Plan (UAP) and York’s new Internationalization and Global Engagement Strategy, and it is something the University has done since its inception.
International students are part of an effort to cultivate a global outlook in a world where technology has shrunk distances, and domestic students benefit equally from exposure to different perspectives.
Sarah Bay-Cheng, Dean of the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design, is keenly aware of the value international students contribute to the learning experience.
“Knowledge doesn't stay in one place, but relies on the vital movement and exchange of ideas around the world,” says Bay-Cheng. “Global networks are, therefore, essential to the success of researchers, creatives and students everywhere.”
A Helping Hand
York International, works closely with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students and Faculties to design and deliver programs and services to ensure that international students succeed and feel at home on campus.
“We are proud to provide so many excellent students from other countries with a home-away-from-home, and we are committed to ensuring their experience is a fulfilling one, academically, socially and developmentally,” says Woo Kim, Director of International Scholar and Student Services for York International.
“YI is a central hub for international students: we offer immigration advising, UHIP (health insurance), international student orientation, social events, workshops on academic supports and skills, career supports and more. We work closely with University partners and Faculties to support students and provide an excellent experience for international students. A large university like York can be daunting to navigate – if you’re an international student and you’re not sure where to go for help, you can start with York International and we’ll help you get to the right place.”
For example, York International offers a Global Peer Program to support prospective and incoming first year students, keeping them active and engaged support as soon as they’ve received their offer to York to better help them navigate their student journey. Current upper year students remain connected with newly admitted students through monthly check-ins, virtual group connections, and ongoing virtual support. This summer, 112 students completed the program.
Once international students arrive on campus, they are invited to an orientation program geared specifically toward their needs. They receive immigration guidance, are introduced to local community resources, such as banks and cellphone providers, and have the opportunity to network with other incoming students. They also engage in academic orientation delivered by the Faculties.
Throughout the year, YI and the Faculties are available to assist international students with their needs, either through one-one-one guidance, career workshops or social opportunities.
Call to Action
“Our goal is to support international students achieve success, in whatever way they define it, whichever path they choose,” said Gengatharan. “When international students succeed, it is a win for everyone at York and in Canada.
“We encourage Faculties and or faculty members who wish to learn more about or support the international student experience to be in touch with colleagues at York International.
“Finally, to our international students – you belong here, you bring so much to our community, and we’re so glad you’ve chosen us.”