International student enrolment up five per cent despite online learning challenges

By: Kalkidan Mulugeta

International students face many pandemic-induced challenges, and Red River College Polytechnic is working hard to address them.

Bryan Meng, the manager of global engagement at RRC Polytech and his team at The RRC Centre for International Education, is working diligently to support international students.

Despite the challenges, international enrolment at RRC Polytech is up by roughly five per cent, Meng said.

A group of international students pre-pandemic. Submitted by RRC Polytech.

The college doesn’t think vaccine passports will be an issue and many families of international students feel it’s going to protect their kids, Meng said.

“The federal government has done a fantastic job in helping international students,” he added.

The government has created a website to make it easier for international students to extend their studying permits. The website allows students to apply for post-graduation permits and to change their passport status to visitors.

The pandemic’s challenges include financial barriers, internet connection issues, time zone differences, and inability to connect with learning resources—which many students need VPNs to access, Meng said.

“Youtube is not accessible in China,” he said.

Some teachers at RRC Polytech are asking for lists of any international students in their classes so they can schedule classes earlier in the morning, he said.

“I am 100 per cent appreciative to teachers who are willing to do that,” he added.

Another issue all students have faced during the pandemic and learning online is not being able to see or hang out with friends outside of class. For international students, community building is very important, Meng said.

In a 2020 report published by the International Journal of Cultural Studies conducted by Jolynna Sinanan and Catherine Gomez, they observed community building and connections are essential for international students.

“Friendships provide both direct and indirect feelings of connectedness, solidarity, and shared circumstances for students pursuing their educational aspirations away from home,” the report reads.

“Friends provided feelings of belonging, where students created a ‘home away from home,’” it continues.

RRC Polytech offers international students integration activities during lockdown. Some of those activities are Kahoot games, trivia games online, and networking sessions every two weeks.

“Students need a brain break,” Meng said. 

Pre-pandemic, the college held an event called Celebration of Cultures every winter. It offered free food, cultural performances, games, and a face-paint area for students and their children.

“It’s like an RRC Folklorama,” Meng said. 

The college hopes to start bringing those kinds of events back when social distancing isn’t required, he added.