Enhanced orientation experience gives UBC students a leg up
Everybody knows that arriving on campus for the first time can be a daunting experience for new students – especially those coming from beyond B.C.’s border and from outside Canada. Dislocation, unfamiliarity, cultural differences and the fact that many students are living away from home for the first time in their lives can mean increased stress.
At UBC’s Okanagan campus, special orientation programs for international, out of province and returning students aim to not only make them feel welcome, but help them immerse into their campus setting and the Kelowna community. As well as rolling out the red carpet, it is a way of enhancing the student experience so newcomers to campus can quickly get past the deer-in-the-headlights sensation and call campus home.
For the fourth year running, International Programs and Services offers an intense, six-day orientation program for international students called Jump Start. A total of 88 new students from 32 countries are taking part in Jump Start, plus a dozen are returning as volunteers. It includes on-campus accommodation and one-on-one mentoring with returning international student volunteers. There are academic, relocation support, social and cultural workshops and hands-on experiences – including off-campus day trip adventures and recreation at Okanagan Lake.
Teresa Flanagan, manager of International Programs and Services, says Jump Start has been a great success. Student diversity at the Okanagan campus has grown with nearly 600 international students enrolled this school year, compared to 500 last year.
“Jump Start is a microcosm of our larger international student community here,” says Flanagan. The program has proven itself as an excellent retention tool, and has grown along with the diversity of UBC’s Okanagan campus. “It helps students find their feet early, and set them up for greater success in that crucial first year.”
Jump Start’s intensive academic sessions, combined with familiarization with student support services help students navigate areas others might take for granted. Fundamentally important is assisting students to get settled quickly into their living and studying environments, from banking and cell phone programs to Canadian cultural norms around relationships and alcohol use, says Flanagan.
Samantha Batliner, a second-year student from Panjachel, Guatemala, says she is an eager volunteer with Jump Start this year after taking part in the experience during her first year. The 18-year-old feared that arriving from another country would be an isolating experience. But not with Jump Start.
“I met 30 students in my first few days,” says Batliner, who is enrolled in International Studies. “You keep meeting more and more people and it’s really great.”
Konyerem Tobechukwu Achimole-Ibe arrived in the Okanagan from Nigeria last October and missed all of the campus orientation. The 18-year-old Sciences student, who is studying pre-pharmacy, says he made friends easily and they helped familiarize him with campus and academic life. “I know it would have been easier with Jump Start,” he says. Using computers and the Internet for registering and filing course assignments were novel experiences that took some getting accustomed to. “In Nigeria you write everything out in long hand and pay someone to type it for you,” says Achimole-Ibe.
Taking a page from Jump Start, the extended orientation has been adapted for out-of-province students as well in a program called Kick Start. It aims to build connections to UBC’s Okanagan campus and the Kelowna community, encourage fun and enjoyment, ease the transition from high school and allow senior students an opportunity to lead first-year student programming.
In its first year, 30 students from across Canada are taking part. Kick Start includes road trips to the Interior Provincial Exhibition, Kettle Valley railway trestles and kayaking on Okanagan Lake.
“Kick Start was developed because we know that students are more successful in university when they feel a sense of belonging to their new campus and surrounding community,” says Michelle Lowton, associate director of student development and advising. “With this program, we wanted to make a special effort to create that sense of community before school begins and to help them kick start their first year with a lot of fun and adventure in the Okanagan.”
Enhanced orientation is also spreading to other programs. The Faculty of Management offers a third-year orientation experience for the first time. Ian Stuart, associate dean of student experience, says the three-day program is designed to encourage team work and joint problem solving.
“In their first two years, Management students complete individual study and projects,” says Stuart. “Third year involves a different approach and we want to ensure that students are well prepared and confident in their abilities to work together and devise joint solutions to problem solving.”
The orientation experience includes large group exercises and sessions in conflict management and team effectiveness. It culminates with an overnight “Outward Bound” camping retreat to Armstrong to promote bonding and cooperation.
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