Sheridan international students and married couple Aicong and Guangjin Zhang know first-hand the challenges that international students face. Their relationship has spanned three continents, two postsecondary institutions, and marriage. So when they were offered the chance to help fellow international students through the International Centre’s i-Stars program, they jumped at the opportunity.
Sheridan’s i-Stars have become an important resource for Sheridan international students. So much so, that Dean, International, Dr. Mike Allcott, has expanded the program, and Sheridan now employs approximately 10 i-Stars from various countries. Launched four years ago by Yan Wu, Manager, International Business Development and Partnerships at Sheridan, i-Stars connect international students—particularly first year and ESL students—to resources, faculty and staff. They also provide language and academic support, work at the International Centre, design and hold workshops, and answer questions about Sheridan’s programs and services. “I-Stars are role models and friends. When students come here and they don’t know anyone, a role model for them is so important,” says Wu. “I want new students to know that academically they are supported, and that in their everyday lives they have friends to turn to.”
Aicong and Guangjin are perfect in this dual role, says Wu. “Aicong and Guangjin understand what students need,” she says. “From the beginning they were really quick to learn, and they know what is required to be successful. Their experiences are so valuable to new students. They are kind, they are experienced and they are eager to help. Those are the three most important qualities that make a great i-Star.”
“I-Stars are role models and friends. When students come here and they don’t know anyone, a role model for them is so important. I want new students to know that academically they are supported, and that in their everyday lives they have friends to turn to.” – Yan Wu
Originally from China, Aicong and Guangjin met during ESL class at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where they studied English for 15 weeks before beginning their master’s degree programs. Guangjin obtained a master’s degree in computer science, and Aicong did her master’s degree in banking and financial services. When they completed their programs, they returned to China where they married two years ago.
Wanting to further their education, they chose Canada—and Sheridan. “We heard that Sheridan offered good opportunities for co-op programs, and the opportunity to get Canadian work experience, so we decided to come here,” says Aicong. She enrolled in the Business Administration – Finance diploma program, and Guangjin enrolled in the Systems Analyst and Network Engineering diploma program.
They worked at the International Centre at Davis, as the campus’ only Mandarin-speaking i-Stars, where they provided front desk support. They also prepared workshops for international students on how to use SLATE (Sheridan’s Learning and Teaching Environment), how to pay their tuition fees in Access Sheridan, and how to use guard.me insurance. They also answered questions from prospective students looking for more information about Sheridan’s programs and courses, including from Chinese students overseas who are thinking about enrolling at Sheridan. “They’re so patient and accommodating,” says Wu. “They may receive questions through phone calls, through WeChat, or through emails; whichever way prospective students communicate with them they’re so responsive, and they’re so organized.”
“Being an i-Star is a great experience,” says Guangjin. “As an i-Star you have the opportunity to practice your English, help many people at Sheridan and learn how to use Sheridan resources.”
Aicong says that their experience as i-Stars has benefitted them as much as the students they’ve helped. “At the beginning, we weren’t familiar with Sheridan’s programs and services, and it was a bit awkward when we didn’t know the answers,” she says. “But we would go home and figure it out. I’ve learned a lot from helping others.”
They say their time living in Scotland eased their transition to Canada. “Our experience in the UK with living in a foreign country has allowed us to share that experience with the students at Sheridan,” says Guangjin.
“Being an i-Star is a great experience. As an i-Star you have the opportunity to practice your English, help many people at Sheridan and learn how to use Sheridan resources.” – Guangjin Zhang
Being a married couple has also helped them to excel at Sheridan, in Canada, and in their jobs as i-Stars. “We encourage each other,” says Aicong. “We’re studying in different programs at Sheridan, so we can share that information with each other. It makes us like a team.”
“We always do everything together,” agrees Guangjin.
Aicong and Guangjin are currently on a leave of absence from their i-Star roles so they can focus on their co-op terms, and hope to return as i-Stars in the fall. Longer term, they’d like to stay in Canada after they graduate from Sheridan. “The people in Canada are very friendly,” says Aicong. “The country is so diverse, and we have the opportunity to meet many people from all different cultures, it’s great!”
Pictured at top of page: Aicong and Guangjin Zhang.
Written by: Tina Dealwis, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.