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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 11 | Sep. 5 , 2002

Finding the Facts to Fit In

Program helps international students adjust

By Michelle Cook

When Aditi Kolachala left behind a successful career in India to pursue graduate studies at UBC, she arrived on campus wondering whether she would be able to adapt, but a program for international teaching assistants quickly helped her feel at home in a Canadian classroom.

Kolachala, 24, came to Vancouver in January to begin a master's degree in health informatics at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. It was her first trip to Canada and she felt lost and helpless.

"My initial reaction was total culture shock," Kolachala says. "I came in with such excitement, but even small things like taking a bus were so tough because the system - everything - is different."

Kolachala's biggest fear was not being able to present herself well in class, and not knowing what professors and students from a different culture would expect of her. Luckily, Kolachala's older sister, a UBC graduate, told her about a program offered by the Centre for Intercultural Communication that could help her deal with the differences in academic life between India and Canada.

The International Teaching Assistants (TAs) Program is a professional development program designed to give graduate students like Kolachala the teaching and intercultural communications skills they need to succeed as teaching assistants - and students - on a Canadian campus.

"We thought it would be helpful for students to have a course that doesn't just focus on language, but on understanding different education systems and what makes a good teacher and a good learner in different societies," says the Centre's director Mackie Chase.

Through a series of interactive workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions, the 11-week evening course teaches students effective presentation skills for an international audience. It also helps them to develop a personal and professional network of people for support.

Kolachala got tips on everything from poise, eye contact, and classroom humour to how to ask and answer questions effectively. She even learned how to adapt the colour of her PowerPoint presentations to appeal to a Canadian audience.

The course not only gave Kolachala the confidence to teach - something she hopes to do this term - it has improved her performance as a student.

Since it was launched 11 years ago, more than 800 graduate students from 35 countries have completed the program. Chase says the course has evolved from helping students adjust to new surroundings and be better TAs, into a professional development program that prepares international graduate students for their future professional lives.

This year the Centre has added one-on-one sessions for international faculty members who are new to Canadian classrooms.

For more information on the International Teaching Assistants Program, contact Pat Marshall at 604-822-1436. To register, e-mail christine.connell@ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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