Wijaya is one of more than 100,000 international students studying in B.C., part of a trend that is growing both in terms of numbers and in economic impact, new reports show.
There has been a 13-per-cent increase in international students in B.C. since 2010 and a 17-per-cent increase in spending by international students, the government said in a news release. In 2011-2012, there were 106,600 international students in both public and private institutions in B.C., which was up from 94,000 in 2009-2010.
In 2011-12, international students spent close to $2.10 billion in B.C. on tuition, accommodation and other living expenses, arts and culture and recreation, B.C. economist Roslyn Kunin found in a report commissioned by the B.C. Council for International Education, a provincial Crown corporation that supports international education.
Spending by international students supported more than 23,400 jobs, the report says.
The value of international education to the B.C. economy ranks closely with other leading industries such as coal, lumber, chemical wood pulp and copper, Kunin's report found.
Public feedback "The growth we're seeing in international education is great news, and speaks to the quality of our world-class education sector," Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk said in a news release. "As we strengthen trade relationships around the world it's more important than ever for B.C. students to learn from international students in their classes here at home, and to study abroad, gaining experience and making connections in other countries."
International students attend many types of schools in B.C., including public K-12 schools, UBC and SFU, BCIT, more than 30 private language schools in Vancouver alone, and 58 private vocational and career training institutions in Vancouver with nearly 50,000 students, according to the Vancouver Economic Commission. The number of international students might dip in 2014 because Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has proposed regulatory reforms to the sector. The reforms mean that each provincial government will create a list of approved schools that can offer study permits. Initially, these reforms were to be in place by this past Wednesday but that date has been extended until summer 2014.
CIC is now reviewing public feedback to the proposed changes in preparation for completing the final regulations, the department said in a statement.
The Ministry of Advanced Education said in an emailed statement that it "is currently in the process of determining the approach to establishing the list of institutions that will be eligible to host international students with study permits once the proposed federal regulations are in force."
An earlier draft framework suggested that schools will be required to be in good standing, offer students protection (including a transparent tuition-fee refund policy), and keep tabs on classroom attendance to ensure those who enter the country on study visas are actually studying.
The reforms are intended to address concerns that some foreigners, with help from certain schools, are entering the country on student visas with no intention of studying, and that some operators take advantage of genuine students by selling low-quality programs.
The ministry of advanced education says on its website that the types of educational institutions, schools and organizations that may be impacted by the changes include: public post-secondary institutions, private degree-granting institutions, private career training institutions, private institutions offering academic, nondegree programs, language schools/institutions, theological institutions and other postsecondary institutions or organizations offering education/career training programs to international students.
At the same time, the federal government also plans to spend more on recruiting international students.
The 2013 budget promised $23 million over two years to strengthen Canada's position in the global education market, noting that 239,000 foreign students in Canada in 2010 contributed $7.7 billion to the national economy.
Livable city International students will likely continue to flock to the Metro Vancouver area, which is renowned for its livability.
Wijaya chose Vancouver not only for its focus on sustainability, but also because he thought it is quite similar to his two homeland countries, Singapore and Indonesia.
"My mother came here once and she told me that the culture is westernized and the language is English, but there is also a large population of Chinese people here," Wijaya said. "She thought it would be easy for me to integrate into Vancouver's culture."
His family wanted to keep him closer to home, perhaps in Australia, but Wijaya wanted to travel farther.
"I really wanted to venture out of my comfort zone. I was quite sheltered because I was the only son with three sisters and my family is pretty traditional," he said. "I really felt I need to experience things on my own and grow. Vancouver was a place that I could do that because it is multicultural. My focus is also on the environment and how to create a sustainable future and I thought that Vancouver had that spirit and goal. I was really interested in coming here and learning more about it."
Cultural adjustment He said the teaching in Canada is not as "authoritarian" as what he experienced in Asia, and instead focuses on finding new perspectives.
"This kind of teaching really resonated with me. It really makes me think creatively and innovatively, especially that there are always other solutions," Wijaya said.
He said it has been challenging to be away from his family even though he spoke English.
"My mom and dad are not here - I don't have those people who spank me when I'm not doing it right," he said.
"I do have supportive friends, but friends are different.
"Sometimes when you're alone, it's really stressful and you just crash - you can't just share that with your friends. It's challenging in the sense that your real family is not here."
Fraser International College's principal Christa Ovenell said international students go through a significant transition period and that her school and its staff are very supportive.
"The students are greeted and welcomed on a very personal level. They're not just coming into a big ocean to fare for themselves; we act as their guide even before they arrive," Ovenell said.
"There is a cultural adjustment that is made. As well as keeping up with the academic rigours, the students need to get settled. For example, a student from Nigeria might want to get her hair done or find out where to get hair products.
When you're dealing with making new friends and keeping your studies up, that comfort and sense of place is really important."
Positive experience She said students choose Canada for their studies because of the positive reputation of the schools here.
"Because of the growth in the popularity of Canada as a landing point for international students, what's happening is they're coming in and they're having a really positive experience and they're telling other people," Ovenell said.
"I think specifically in Vancouver we have a really high level of livability and throughout Canada there is a really high level of acceptance and cultural diversity. People don't stare at you on the street if you're obviously from somewhere else. I think that's a really positive thing."
The government is also hoping more British Columbian students will choose to study abroad to expand their knowledge and experience in other countries. To that end, they have created a website (bcstudyabroad.ca) that provides information on studyabroad programs, provides information on scholarships and other funding and helps students apply to programs.
It's definitely an experience that Wijaya has enjoyed - he said he would recommend Vancouver to any friends and family hoping to study abroad. After graduation he's hoping to head to Africa, South America or Southeast Asia to focus on changing the local economy or saving the environment.
"My parents would really, really love me to come home and take over my father's business, but I really want to create a name for myself and challenge myself. I want to solve problems that not many people would think of solving, "Wijaya said. "After coming here and experiencing a lot, I've found that what drives me is challenging myself all the time."