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Back to School: new club brings together domestic, international students

Global Student Network offers film nights, festivals, networking opportunities

Students at the Global Student Network barbeque on the grounds of the Centre for International Experience (photo by Johnny Guatto)

When international students first come to the University of Toronto, it’s very tempting for them to stay within the comfort zone of their own language and culture, says Tom Chan, who arrived here from China three years ago to study life sciences. 

But Chan believes that all students – international and domestic – should get out of that comfort zone and take advantage of the wealth of different experiences and perspectives available at the university. That’s why he’s joined the new Global Student Network, a student club that runs out of the Centre for International Experience (CIE) on the downtown campus.  

The network aims to connect international students with one another and with domestic students interested in an international experience, says GSN member Maiko Mitsuhashi.  

A third-year Arts & Science student, Mitsuhashi says she joined the GSN because of her personal experience as an international student. “I found it very hard to connect with other international students when I arrived here. Through the GSN you can meet people who come from your own country or domestic students who are interested in your country, and other international students as well. That’s such a cool thing.”

The GSN will offer a mix of formal and informal events, Mitsuhashi says, including networking opportunities and even a multicultural festival. They will complement other activities for international students organized by the CIE’s global lounge. Along with one-off orientation activities including a trip to Niagara Falls and a welcoming barbeque, there are ongoing activities such as weekly mindfulness meditation sessions, monthly film nights, cultural luncheons, an English communication program and Connexion Mondays, which bring together different U of T international and cultural groups.

The GSN is the brainchild of Marco Adamovic, who coordinates the global lounge programming initiatives at the CIE. Approximately 15 per cent of U of T’s 83,000 students last year were international, Adamovic notes, and they can have challenges  adjusting to cultural and language differences. Participating in social activities can help with these adjustments.

“International students are interested in a variety of events and programming, exchange students in particular, because they may be here for a very short period of time and want to get as much out of the city and the university as they can.”

Adamovic wants to make the CIE the place to go to for anything international or intercultural. Last year, about 2,000 students participated in the Centre’s activities and he believes the GSN will be able to help them increase those numbers. “Students trust other students and place great importance on word of mouth,” he says. 

But the GSN isn’t just for international students. Domestic students are also welcome, says member Natasha Courtenay. A third-year anthropology and psychology student, Courtenay says she joined the group because of a long-time interest in other cultures. “I thought it would be fun to organize events and to get international students and other cultural groups working together. It’s also a great place to meet people.”

Terry Lavender writes about international issues for U of T News.