On Monday university students across New Brunswick will begin spring break and while some catch up on old readings or head south in search of tropical beaches and drinks decorated with miniature umbrellas, others are taking advantage of an opportunity to give back.
“The point of today is to get university students to do something different with their spring break,” said Sarah King, the director of experiential learning for the University of New Brunswick.
“You hear about students partying, or travelling, or bunkering down and studying, and we know that there’s an appetite for students to contribute to their community but we here all the time from students, ‘Oh I just don’t have time’ or ‘I don’t know how’ or ‘I don’t know where I’m needed or what use I can be.'”
Enter the Saturday Super Social, a joint event with the Saint John Newcomers Centre, Future Ready NB, and the four publicly-funded New Brunswick universities.
The concept is simple: bring together newcomers and students, giving the former a chance to socialize, make new friends and practice their language skills and the latter an immersive experiential learning opportunity.
“The newcomers get to make new friends and the locals get to meet people from different cultures,” said Mohamed Bagha, the managing director for the Saint John Newcomers Centre.
“I think such events are great for integration and they’re very good for the community … We are here to make newcomers locals.”
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Some of the volunteers were themselves newcomers at one point in time.
“I came here four years ago to study at Mount Allison and personally I understand how hard adjusting to a new culture is, so I just want to help after four years,” said Kana Tagawa, a fourth-year political science student.
“I realize how hard adjusting to a new culture and a new country is, especially in the winter time when it can be pretty depressing because of the weather.”
Nadine Robinson, a first-year English major at Mount Allison, says it’s important to go out of the way to make newcomers feel welcome.
“I think it’s extremely important to give back to the community and to show the newcomers that we are here for them and we support them because they don’t always get that right away when they step off the plane,” she said.
Sixteen-year-old Hamza Hleilo knows just how important that can be. He and his family arrived in Saint John from Syria over three years ago.
His message for others who are just arriving is a simple one: in Canada, you don’t have to forget where you came from.
“Just because you came to another country that doesn’t mean you have to forget your culture, because here in Canada–it’s a multi-culture and you can learn from their community and they can learn from your community,” he said.