Seeking a better life: International students at TRU

International students believe the key to getting ahead in Canada is education, mastering English - and hockey.

As Thompson Rivers University's International Days gets into full swing, speakers and events turn campus attention to the foreign student experience this week.

They're coming in droves and they're eager to fit in, according to the study How TRU International Students are Preparing for Career Related Work in the Canadian Labour Market after Graduation by Nancy Bepple, TRU Careers Education Department co-ordinator.

The university has seen a 276 per cent increase in international students from 2000 to 2010.

And after experiencing Canada, only 50 per cent of them want to return to their native countries.

The rest want to stay because they view it as a better life.

"As much as we're talking about facts and figures, behind those facts and figures are individual stories," said Bepple during a TRU presentation on Monday. "These are individuals who have dreams. They come here. They want to do something with their life."

A major impetus for the increase in international students is the much easier pathway to permanent residency that education provides.

Thanks to programs such as the federal government's Canadian Class Experience, students can be landed immigrants in a year. For those applying from outside Canada, it can take six to eight years.

A vast majority of international students already come with post-secondary credentials from their home country.

They're also fully aware that this means next to nothing. To get ahead, they believe they need to learn English, learn cultural customs (hockey is often mentioned) and gain work experience - any work experience.

"That's means entry level, like Tim Hortons," said Bepple.

But despite 78 per cent of students surveyed viewing any work as important to making it in Canada, only 21 per cent landed jobs.

The onerous and limiting off-campus work permit situation hinders many.

But there's good news. The rules will be broadened - although more strictly enforced - come January 2014.

Instead of requiring a certain grade point average to earn an off-campus work permits, all full-time international students will be entitled, however there will be more policing of these students to ensure compliance.

That will ensure an increasing number of international students take full-time studies while giving them an opportunity to interact off campus, according to Adrian Conradi of TRU International.

One Career Education worker commented that it's important to "manage students' expectations" by pointing out that the Kamloops labour market will only accommodate so many workers.

The measure comes none too late for student recruiters as the U.S. Senate passed a bill last week that fast tracks green cards for students in the STEMs - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The situation creates a nightmare competition for schools hoping to attract students from abroad, according to Mike Henniger, TRU International director of marketing.

Another way to make TRU increasingly attractive is by facilitating all opportunities off campus, said Bepple.

Paid work and volunteering is rated nearly identically in terms of importance to students in Bepple's study.

Also important was access to potential employers through job fairs and co-op programs as well as internships and practicum placements.

For TRU's administration that means improving the students' opportunities off campus.

"As much as we want to be looking at what is being offered in the class, we have to look out," said Bepple. "How can TRU help the international students link with outside?"

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