University of Calgary

Centre for International Students and Study Abroad: Providing personal support

UToday HomeMarch 25, 2013

Alifa Rahma“CISSA basically saved me during the first year and is still doing so,” says Alifa Rahman, a biological sciences major who came to the University of Calgary from Bangladesh. Photo by Riley BrandtUgh. Visas, work permits, language barriers, loneliness, paperwork, cultural differences and costs; a student studying in a foreign country faces all of these challenges, and more. Just to cope, they would almost need their own personal support team.

Well, about 3,000 international students on campus and 1,000 Calgary students who study abroad each year do have a personal support team.

It’s called the Centre for International Students and Study Abroad (CISSA) and its job is to ensure that every foreign student and every Calgary student studying abroad prospers both academically and personally.

Ricky Ramdhaney knows what it’s like to feel isolated and overwhelmed in a new country. In 1995 he left Trinidad and came to Canada for his education. Now as acting director of CISSA, he and his team of 10 make CISSA the best possible friend to international students and those Calgarians who are studying abroad.

Ramdhaney knows that the extra burden of moving your studies to a different country is vastly outweighed by the rewards.

"The benefits of international study are invaluable and unimaginable to most students," he says. "Going abroad is crucial for both personal development and career development. Employers today are looking for students who have international experience, but international study also changes how students look at themselves. It makes students more mature, more professional. It sparks in them a need to help others, to volunteer, to work in the community."

Alifa Rahman is a student for whom CISSA has made a big difference. In order to challenge herself abroad, the biological sciences major came here from Bangladesh.

"CISSA basically saved me during the first year and is still doing so," she says. "Any international student would experience culture shock and I wasn't any different. I had a hard time making friends and adjusting to the new environment. I barely knew who to talk to. Being a social person, it was a very difficult. But the CISSA volunteers and staff were the most wonderful people. They always found those few minutes to listen to what I had to say and ensured me that it would be okay. I consider CISSA as my second home as I love those people from the bottom of my heart."

Now Rahman gives back to CISSA by volunteering as a social event planner for international students, and she helps co-ordinate its international mentorship program.

It’s not the first time that Ramdhaney has heard students express this kind of deeply felt appreciation for what his team does.

"We’re the first line of contact," he says. "The people who work here are exceptional in terms of having the patience and empathy, of remembering what it was like to be the student themselves. In our meeting area, our plaque says ‘Think of yourself as the student’, and that’s what we do."


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