Mount Royal: Hot destination for international students
Why international students say Calgary offers a warm reception to English Language Learners
By Brett Luft, Web Editor
It’s a topic I’ve discussed on multiple occasions during my time at the Reflector: why study abroad? For many, it’s an opportunity to take in new cultural experiences, travel and learn to find one’s place in the world.
But an exchange is also about sharing one’s own culture in a new environment. And that’s exactly what Mount Royal student Shaun Henderson did when he met Mana Iwasa while studying at Hirosaki University in Hirosaki, Japan.
Iwasa was the manager of Henderson’s soccer team in Hirosaki, and when she said she was interested in studying abroad, Henderson convinced her to study at MRU.
“At first I wanted to go to the United States because it was a dream of mine,” Iwasa said. “But when Shaun came to Japan as an international student at Hirosaki University he told me how Calgary is the best!”
After researching, Iwasa made her decision to study in Calgary. “I realized Canada would be better than America,” she said.
Henderson, a student studying Outdoor Leadership and Eco-Tourism, says Calgary is a great place for Japanese students because it’s a familiar tourist destination.
“With Banff next-door, Calgary is an international hub and gets lots of Japanese travelling through here,” Henderson said. “When Japanese travel they like to keep things familiar, such as eating at Japanese restaurants — which Calgary has an abundance of — and staying at Japanese-speaking hotels.”
Many tourist companies in the Calgary region offer networking opportunities or sightseeing tours for Japanese visitors. But Iwasa says Calgary’s safety net for foreigners is smaller than other places in Canada, which makes it easier to get involved with the English-speaking community.
“I think in Vancouver there’s a lot of Japanese people, so if I were to study abroad there, I can speak Japanese frequently,” Iwasa said. “I think Vancouver is better to visit, but Calgary is a [better environment] to live and study in.”
By not having a total safety net, Iwasa finds herself in positions where she’s forced to challenge her English ability. Saya Nishimura, a mutual friend of Henderson and Iwasa, says it’s one of the elements that makes Calgary a tight-knit community.
“For studying, Calgary is better because it has more of a community feel to it,” Nishimura said.
Nishimura also believes Calgary’s entertainment culture caters to this community feeling, while adding multicultural flair.
“Calgary has a lot of traditional Canadian culture — such as Stampede — but also interesting events such as the Lilac [Festival],” Nishimura said.
The June Lilac Festival has a varied culture on display, which demonstrates Canada’s multicultural roots.
But above all, Nishimura believes Calgarians have an easy-to-understand dialect when communicating with visitors.
“When I was a freshman in university I wanted to go to New Zealand or Canada, but I think Canadian people offer a better experience to Japanese people,” Nishimura said. “This is because they don’t have a strong dialect or accent, which makes it easier to learn basic English — it’s very important…”
Nishimura prefers the collective mindset that many Canadians have. “I think other countries also have too much individualism when compared to Canada.”
According to Nishimura, this is also demonstrated in MRU’s international classes, as students from other cultures share their perspectives when tackling obstacles. She says understanding how other cultures overcome issues is beneficial when returning to one’s home country.
This makes Mount Royal a proud institution for anyone that might choose to attend — whether or not they’re from a foreign country.