New forum for international students

University of Calgary international, refugee and immigrant students have a new forum to air any Canadian concerns.

Angela Renwick, a U of C undergraduate student, has organized a peer support group called Umoja Circle. Umoja, Swahili for "unity," sums up Renwick’s intent.

"This is a peer support group for anyone who would like some peer support on understanding Canadian culture, understanding different avenues for information [on Canada], anyone who is a full-time, part-time, continuing, ESL, or refugee student, and new immigrants… and their spouses," said Renwick.

With such a broad group, what kinds of issues can participants expect to hear about?

"Everything," laughed Renwick. "We’re going to talk about everything."

Though most of the questions she has received regard technical aspects of Canadian and academic life–including how to apply for Canadian citizenship, how to get a student visa and how degrees from overseas are evaluated—Renwick knows there is a need for more informal information.

"There is always a divide as to how sexuality is looked at, how sex is looked at, and dating outside of your culture is a real challenge," said Renwick. "Like, what is sexual harassment composed of? These are issues we will be broaching in the future."

She also states her group needs tools to deal with any racism they may encounter.

The meetings happen every two weeks, and are roundtables with participants bringing topics for open discussion to the group. Renwick intends to invite guest speakers to present on various subjects. Because this is a peer support group, it serves a social function, where students can expand their community.

"They’re responsible to reach one and teach one, that’s the philosophy, so students are responsible for educating each other about services available," said Renwick.

Renwick is currently looking for a co-facilitator. The time commitment is one hour every two weeks, and some digging for presenters on Calgary services for new Canadians. A facilitator’s job is fairly simple.

"I encourage people to engage," she explains.

Umoja Circle meets every two weeks in the International Students’ Centre, MSC 275. The meetings are set for Oct. 29, Nov. 12, Nov. 26, and Dec. 10, from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Renwick at 228-3661, e-mail, or attend a meeting.

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