University uses literacy resources to help international students adapt to life in Canada

At Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, about 17 per cent of students are from abroad. For Deneice Falconer, a graduate student and Family Program Assistant at the Internationalization Office, it’s her job to support international students and their families with resources to help them adapt to life in Canada.

Supporting these students is done primarily through providing helpful information on the website, such as a packing list of things to bring, what to expect, and what it’s like to live in Canada. Falconer was looking to provide some additional information about the banking system in Canada when she came across Money Matters, a free financial literacy program for adult learners.

Falconer got in touch with the team at ABC Life Literacy Canada and quickly rolled out two online workshops for students and their spouses. She says the workshop was extremely helpful.

“The majority of our students don’t know a lot about credit, and in the workshops many of them admitted to never having used a credit card,” she says. “They know nothing about it, and their perception is that it’s not good to be in debt. However, in Canada, it’s important to get credit to buy a house, get a mortgage, etc., and so through this workshop many of the students changed their views about credit cards.”

Falconer’s colleague Hanh Do, who is also a graduate student and helped to co-facilitate the workshops, says she wishes she knew about the program when she arrived in Canada last year.

“As a student from Vietnam, I would have really benefitted from this when I first came to Canada,” she says. Hanh is now in her second year of completing her masters and is pleased that the program is being rolled out to other international students.

In addition to the Money Matters program, Falconer also hosted two ABC Health Matters workshops, which provided health literacy training, resources and information specific to the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial health system. Both ABC Health Matters and Money Matters are part of a suite of free literacy programs available to organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador through the Activate Learning program.

“The information in ABC Health Matters is great because it informs students where to go when they get sick, what they should do in an emergency and where to access resources,” she says. “Given that many of the students arrive in Canada with children, this kind of information is really important for the whole family.”

Falconer says that many of the workshop participants had already been in Newfoundland and Labrador for a year, but still weren’t sure what kinds of health resources they had access to. Despite having full eligibility to the provincial healthcare system as well as third-party health insurance through the university, they weren’t taking advantage of what was available to them.

A large part of the ABC Health Matters workshop focused on mental health, which Falconer says was very well-received by the group.

“Being a full-time student in a foreign country – sometimes also as a parent – can be very challenging and stressful,” she says. “In Canada there is a lot of mental health support available and it’s a topic that’s widely talked about, yet for many of our students, where they come from, they don’t associate things like stress with overall health. Oftentimes, talking about mental health is frowned upon in their home countries, so they keep it to themselves. It was good to explain to the students that not only is mental health something openly talked about here, but there are also lots of places to go to get help if needed.”

Activate Learning is a literacy and essential skills program focused on supporting and empowering the unique population of Newfoundland and Labrador. The program aims to improve the number of training opportunities for adult learners, employees and workplaces in the areas of essential skills, employability skills, health literacy and financial literacy.

To learn more, to access free downloadable resources or to sign up to run a free program, visit www.abcactivatelearning.ca.