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Kamloops international students are enriching the economy, culture of the city

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The pandemic may have discouraged a few post-secondary international students from travelling overseas to Kamloops for their studies this year, but their effects on the city can’t be denied.

The large contingent of international students is having an impact on the economy and culture of the city, as some stay to start businesses and add to diversity in the Tournament capital. Others are helping supply labour for countless other Kamloops businesses.

“During their study, (international students) are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week, and they are actually the essential workers. They are delivering for (Skip the Dishes), working at Superstore and Walmart. Anywhere you go, they provide service to our citizens in the community,” Baihua Chadwick, CEO of TRU World said.

The number of international students at TRU dropped this year with 3,324 studying 'on-campus' now, compared to 4,441 last year. And on-campus housing is at roughly 50% vacancy this semester.

Still, their footprint among the community is easy to see.

READ MORE: TRU grad opens Kamloops's first West African restaurant

Oluwatobi Akinwumi, a former student, recently opened her own restaurant on West Victoria Street serving West African dishes. On Seymour Street, a pair of entrepreneurs opened a grocery store where they offer authentic and familiar foods to students hailing from India.

These business owners were TRU graduates, then set roots in Kamloops.

TRU World oversees the international student program at the university. Their central purpose is to reach out to prospective students in other countries to connect them with the school.

“We have over 100 countries represented in our student body. Currently, they’re not all here because of restrictions but before the pandemic, we had 103 nationalities represented on our campus. Within our little city, just from that you can imagine how that's changed our community,” Chadwick said.

The majority of these students attend business school — 1,884 out of the 3,324 in the Winter 2021 semester, to be exact. That’s 77% of the School of Business and Economics student body at TRU.

READ MORE: TRU grads open an authentic Indian grocery store in Kamloops

Chadwick said many of them will work in finance once they graduate. Often starting as tellers, then, especially those with MBAs will become bank and business managers.

She said the students are allowed a work permit of up to three years once they graduate. Many will opt to officially immigrate to Canada within that time period.

“They are future workforce and they paid their own way. While they’re here, they don’t cost our tax dollars because they are fully self-funded,” Chadwick said. “Whether they are a bank manager or a teller, they are contributing to our economy and community.”

It’s true that TRU’s budget pressures placed a need on importing international students to maximize tuition revenue. The TRU website states: “Cuts to block grants from the province resulting in decreased revenue,” and, “on-campus enrolments have declined resulting in less revenue from tuition.”

But Chadwick said it’s a myth to claim that the school replaces domestic students with those from abroad.

“They will never take that seat away. We only create new seats and new capacity to accommodate. Domestic students are never competing for seats in that way,” she said.

Chadwick originally came to Kamloops in the 90s, which she describes as a “pretty white city” at that time.

It’s difficult to quantify Kamloops’ diverse population because the most recent census was in 2016, but Graham Specht, the diversity outreach coordinator at the local non-profit Immigrant Services Canada, said their most recent data shows over 190 countries are represented among the local population.

READ MORE: International students frustrated by federal work limits during pandemic

It’s also difficult to quantify just how many of these students remain in Kamloops, or even Canada for that matter, but Specht said as many as 60% of international students express a desire to remain in Canada after graduation.

“Some will remain where they went to university. Others will move on to other places in Canada — it’s no secret many will go to Vancouver or somewhere there’s opportunity, much like the rest of us,” Specht said. “But a lot of people have chosen a smaller centre like Kamloops because they are looking for a centre where they have to be immersed in the local culture and the ease of access to English learning.”

Immigrant Services Canada is not Immigration Canada, the federal body. They are a group that provides services and counselling to those navigating the often complex world of federal bureaucratic systems.

They help current and aspiring immigrants settle into Canada and the local community.

“(International students) are housing tenants, retail customers, sports team members, tourism customers, outdoor adventure seekers, and so on. Not to mention educated and intelligent,” he said. “By being present, contributing perspectives and participating in schools, workplaces, community activities... what we call 'society' can become more socially and culturally rich.”

Chadwick is hopeful that incoming international students will continue to “enrich” the local community, but rising anti-Asian incidents have put a damper on their experiences this year.

“Racism incidents were steadily getting better, until the pandemic. I'm afraid to say, I think many aspects of the pandemic brought out the worst from some people,” she said. “So our students have been experiencing worsening racism incidents, probably because people are angry and confused.”

But overall, she hopes the benefits of a diverse community will outweigh the rising confrontations in the community.

“The main thing is to teach us to have an open mind, and to remember that there are many different ways of learning, being, thinking, different worldviews.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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