"My mother parachuted me over Thornhill": International Students in a GTA Secondary School

Investigator:

Funding Program:

SSHRC Partner Engage Grant

Funding Amount:

$24,666

This project proposes to advance a research and public service partnership focused on the schooling experiences and social and cultural adaptation of international/visa students who have completed their primary and early secondary-level education in their home countries and come to Canada for the purposes of obtaining High School Leaving certification from an Ontario secondary school. Non-native speakers of English and non-citizens of Canada, these students, some members of global elites, are often brought to North America by relatives who depart soon after installing them in residences of host families with whom they have had virtually no previous contact. Anecdotal evidence from professional educators associated with the partner school suggests that this cohort of students experience significant adaptation issues, including: loneliness and disorientation, health problems, disabling accidents resulting from non-judicious decisions. Nor is the impact on students' host school educators insignificant, as issues arise that do not fall neatly within the portfolio of academic curriculum. (A quote from one of the Collaborators on this project: "It took me a week to track down the mother's phone number in China! 'Hello, your son got a tattoo and now it's infected.'") However, perhaps because of the relative recentness of the arrival of this student demographic on the provincial educational scene, these students have not been extensively studied in the Ontario context and consequently do not figure on the radar screens of equity offices of the major host school boards.

The overall goal of this project is - in collaboration with teachers/administrators affiliated with Thornlea Secondary School within the York Region District School Board, one of the two major boards in Ontario to serve as host to international/visa students - to obtain an informed portrait of the schooling experiences and adjustment issues related to the school's early study abroad students so that teachers and administrators are appropriately equipped to plan educational approaches and strategies and to devise resources that most beneficially serve the needs and career aspirations of this cohort of adolescent learners.

The collaborating team - including the principal investigator and stakeholders from the partner organization - undertake to interview and conduct focus group discussions with members of the focal cohort as well as their teachers and administrators in order to address the following specific objectives:

  • Ascertain participants' (and, where possible, their caregivers') motivations in uprooting international students from their cultures of origin and re-entrenching them in Ontario secondary-level schooling environments;
  • Obtain an evidenced-based assessment of what international/visa students and their teachers/administrators view as this cohort's major issues in terms of both academic outcomes and social adaptation;
  • Design a portfolio of academic and social activities for the school's early study abroad students that assist with these adolescents' integration within the school culture and Ontario society and foster international/visa students' sense of agency and possibility in this crucial stage of identity formation.

In collaboration with participating educators, we will use preliminary findings from this study to inform the design of activities for a "club"/support group for adolescent, visa students, to be facilitated by teacher collaborators, the PI, and graduate research assistants attached to our project. We will also launch a project website, promoting critical discussion on the schooling success and social integration of this increasingly prominent student demographic.