Volunteering helps international student settle into her ‘new home’

- Mitch Wright

Education graduate student Xiwen Wang had hardly strayed far from her hometown of Beijing before crossing the Pacific to attend graduate school at the University of Victoria. Now, since making that major leap, the 24-year-old is getting the most from the experience through involvement in her new community, which she happily calls home.

Having completed a BA at Beijing International Studies University, majoring in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, Wang says she was eager to experience the world farther afield and was especially looking away from major metropolitan areas “to experience something different.”

After extensive research, UVic was “the best choice,” she says.

Wang arrived in the fall of 2012 to start studying toward a master’s of education in leadership studies and quickly became active with the Marnie Swanson International Commons (IC), a hub where international students access a range of programs and services to ease their transition and support their success. This in turn led to volunteering as a teaching assistant with the University 101 program. Uni 101 offers free, non-credit academic courses to people whose economic and social circumstances normally pose obstacles to higher education.

Wang says volunteering with the programs is a major factor in helping her feel confident in Victoria—she doesn’t just feel at home, it is her home.

The Ring interviewed Wang about her experience as an international student here.

What made you choose UVic?

The multicultural and embracing environment of Victoria and UVic brought me here. And the size, layout and atmosphere of UVic gave me a strong sense of community and sense of belonging.

How did you come to be involved in the International Commons?

I was so lucky to meet Anne [Anne Cirillo, acting IC coordinator] last October when I had just started studying here. I felt tense and frustrated since the educational system here is so different from China. Anne noticed that and helped match me with an academic peer helper (at that time, the IC was still under construction) and also told me about her ideas for creating a platform to offer additional help and opportunities for international students. I thought this was great since I wanted to get help and also wanted to offer help to other international students.

How have you found the experience?

The experience with IC is fantastic! I get academic help, but also many opportunities to practice my public speaking and facilitation skills through presentations and performances. I’ve also made a lot of friends from different backgrounds and broadened my network to look for more opportunities through the partnership between IC and other faculties or departments.

What led you to volunteer as TA with Uni 101?

I received an email from our faculty and appreciate the idea and values of Uni 101. It conveys the idea that access to education should be free to everyone, especially for those who are eager to learn. We should provide them opportunities to gain knowledge, and I want to contribute. I believe doing volunteer work is always a process of mutual learning—I want to learn from the staff, the other TAs and all the students in this program and also get a deeper understanding of Canadian culture.

How have you found the experience of volunteering? What do you enjoy most about it?

Volunteering totally enlightened me about how meaningful it can be and how much influence and impact it can have on others. I enjoy the passion and enthusiasm of the students and was impressed by their critical thinking and insights. The students are willing to express, to share, to listen—they are a whole group of people who have a desire for knowledge and are open-minded towards different voices. Instead of teaching them, I feel like I learned a lot from them.

What are your plans once you complete your MEd degree?

I am eager to work in something related to international affairs, international programs, career services, etc. to make a contribution to the international student services and also enhance the connection between Chinese (or international) students and local students. I love UVic and am eager to work for UVic to make a contribution as a way of giving back for what it has given me.


In this story

Keywords: China, student life, campus

People: Xiwen Wang

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