Editor’s note: This article has been updated for accuracy.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University hosted their first International Focus Week in-person last week with the theme “Unplugged” since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, and the 13th annual celebration of global cultures. International Focus Week is KPU’s way of celebrating International Education Week, which occurs in the third week of November at universities worldwide since 2000.
The week-long event featured a Global Engagement Fair in the Spruce Atrium at the Surrey campus where students could visit booths with information about different countries and their cultures with local snacks and tea, including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, and Spain.
“Not all the stereotypes are true, and I wanted to showcase a little bit of diversity,” says Dara Russo, an exchange student from Brazil managing her country’s booth at the event. “It’s a really diverse, huge country that has so much to offer, and each region is completely different.”
“We are really friendly people, everyone is really outgoing and … you will see lots of different things that you never would have imagined experiencing,” she says, adding that Portuguese is the national language and offers students an opportunity to learn it.
Malva Varela Alonso, an exchange student from Colombia, managed their country’s booth and was at KPU for the fall semester.
“[KPU] was one of the universities that allowed me to take both psychology and fine arts courses in one university at the same time,” they say. “We don’t have the concepts of minors and majors in Colombia, we do either a full major or double major.”
“It’s assumed that because we’re right on the equator, we don’t get seasons and are always in a tropical climate — but we are not. My city is like Vancouver in the fall, but all year round,” Alonso says.
They say students should come to Colombia for an opportunity to learn a new language, meet new people, and participate in dancing.
“This is a collaborative effort between the study abroad team and student life and transitions,” says Carole St. Laurent, associate vice-president of international at KPU.
The study abroad team oversees incoming students from other countries and the domestic students that are outbound. Sometimes there is a wait before an incoming student can enroll, so the transition team stays connected with them and helps them get ready for their studies before arriving in Canada. The student life team helps the exchange student adapt to life in Canada and become a part of the KPU community.
KPU offers in-person student exchange opportunities to various countries, and students can apply for fall 2023 by Feb. 15.
The university also has virtual internship programs, which have been offered to Japan and Costa Rica.
Ren Lucero, a KPU alumni and founder of the Japan Club at KPU, participated in a virtual internship program in Japan.
“For two weeks I was learning Japanese with a few students in an online class with my Japanese teachers. I also had my host family, which I [had] video calls with and we had to speak Japanese the whole time … in my level,” she says.
“I like that they have these exchange programs because, growing up where I’m from, I didn’t see much of this at all,” says Joe Reimer, a KPU student who participated in the Japan virtual internship program and is the event coordinator for the Japan Club.
“I got to meet authentic Japanese teachers and students who helped people [learn] Japanese, [and] it was really fun. I hope to be able to go there in-person soon,” they say.
Jemima Paul-Balogun, a student from Nigeria who did the virtual internship program in Costa Rica, is studying health science at KPU and was paired with a doctor through her internship.
“He showed us pictures of cases he was working on … and we had extra curricular activities, like salsa dancing classes [and] Spanish lessons,” she says. “Getting to experience Costa Rican culture from the comfort of your home is awesome.”
Students can apply before Feb. 15 for a virtual internship for next summer, or by Aug. 22 for next fall.
Paul-Balogun received a scholarship which covered the fees of her virtual internship. The One World International Scholarship program offers funding to multiple students studying abroad, and the deadline to apply is Feb. 15 for exchange semesters. Students can receive between $2,000 to $5,000. There are also destination-specific awards that students can apply for on the study abroad website, but are not offered this year.
“The exchange program is typically a full semester or a year abroad,” St. Laurent says. “You’ll go there and take at least three courses [which] count towards your program, so we work very closely with our partner institutions.”
KPU also offers Field Schools led by different faculty departments. For 2023, students can go to Paris, New York, Colombia, or the Amazon. The deadline to apply is Dec. 1, and there are scholarships students can apply for for the Field Schools as well.
The event also featured a Global Cafe at the Richmond campus which included games, tea, and snacks from around the world and offered an opportunity for students to engage in conversations about languages and cultures.
“I think this is important to celebrate to understand the importance of international education and understanding one another’s cultures, and how we can impact the world and how we can make it a better place,” she says.