A growing international profile

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Syria’s Maher Alasmar is among the hundreds of students from around the world who find a home at Okanagan College.

In 2015-16, 1,349 students from 44 countries other than Canada enrolled at OC, and the number keeps growing. It is nearly triple the 450 students who were enrolled in 2005-06.

This cultural exchange provides a classroom experience with a global perspective and an international outlook, as the College becomes an increasingly diverse tapestry of backgrounds, cultures and dreams. For some of those students, the object is to study, find work and stay in Canada. It’s certainly Alasmar’s intention.

He and his family dreamed of coming to Canada every day for more than three years while living in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

During that time, he often wondered if his hopes would ever be realized, if his children would ever enjoy the basic human rights that Canada promised.

The dream finally came true in December 2015, and Alasmar – now an Okanagan College student – says that in the months that followed, the way in which the people of the region have welcomed his family has been truly heart-warming.

“We feel like this is our home now, our country,” explains Alasmar. “We are so thankful to be here. Canadians have made us feel so welcome. We can’t thank the people of the Okanagan enough for the way they have accepted us.”

Hailing from Homs, Syria’s third largest city, Alasmar moved to Kelowna with his wife Emtethal and three sons, Khaled, Abdul, and Monzer.The Mission Creek Alliance Church sponsored the family as refugees and has supported them throughout the process of settling in their new adopted community. Alasmar is now studying English at the College and hopes to re-build the career he left behind in Syria.

He says the College’s welcoming atmosphere has been a big factor in his ability to step back into the classroom with confidence.

“There is a feeling of caring at the College,” notes Alasmar. “The instructors are great. It’s clear they care about you. And the same goes for the people in the International office and everywhere you go on campus. It’s a nice feeling.”

Alasmar’s is one of many international success stories this year. Yasir Asiri is an international student from Saudi Arabia and one of the first from that country to graduate from the College’s Bachelor of Computer Information Systems degree program.

asiri crAfter graduating in June, Asiri returned home to his family in Saudi Arabia. Inspired by his experience at Okanagan College, he now plans to return to Canada to pursue a master’s degree in Information Systems.

“Everyone at Okanagan College was very friendly and in all the time I was here I never felt like I wasn’t at home.The same is true for people outside of the College. I was never treated like an outsider, which has been one of the greatest things about coming to Canada, and why I want to come back.”

The College celebrated a major milestone for a unique international partnership in 2016.

Twenty-five years ago the first students from Toyota Technical College arrived at Okanagan College to embark on a summer program of collision repair training and learning English. It planted the seed for a relationship that would blossom to span oceans, cultures and decades.

A record 110 students from the Japanese institution completed the program this year, bringing the total to more than 1,000 participants since the partnership began in 1992.Toyota Technical College President Kazunori Ikeyama traveled to Kelowna to join Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton in congratulating students and the passionate instructors and sensei who have helped to grow the program.

“We celebrated and reflected on this great friendship and the many students it has benefited over the years,” explained Ikeyama. “It is a program and a partnership that means a great deal to both institutions.”

“What started out as an educational partnership has become, in many ways, so much more,” said Hamilton. “The cross-cultural exchange that takes place has enriched our campus community tremendously over the years. The more than 1,000 students and the many teachers who have come here to learn about Canadian culture have been, and will continue to be, our honoured guests, friends, learners, and teachers.”

Click here to go back to the OC Community Report 2016 homepage.