The Ring

New International Commons provides a world of support

Mon, 2012-12-03 14:39

Applied linguistics master’s student Jill Fu reads at the metissage performance.
Applied linguistics master’s student Jill Fu reads at the metissage performance.
International commons student volunteers
International commons student volunteers

If you had wandered into the McPherson Library on the afternoon of Nov. 19, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a United Nations reception. A large and diverse crowd was gathered in the Mearns Centre for Learning for the official opening and dedication of the Marnie Swanson International Commons.

Named in honour of UVic’s recently retired and long-serving (23 years) university librarian, the new International Commons (IC) is already a buzzing hub of activity where international students receive a wide range of programs and services to ease their transition to UVic and support their success here. It’s a natural extension of Swanson’s legacy, which saw the dramatic transformation of the library into a truly welcoming and effective learning environment.

The IC is intended to help foster an inclusive global community at UVic, welcoming all students, faculty, staff and community members in order to share their cultures, deepen their connections and promote global citizenship.

In addition to speeches by UVic President David Turpin, Vice-President Academic and Provost Reeta Tremblay and Associate Vice-President Academic Planning Katy Mateer, the event was graced with student performances, including music, dance and a métissage performance (an interwoven narration of the experiences and impressions of four international, Indigenous and domestic students, quotations from which are scattered throughout this article).

  • In 2005, I moved to Victoria to further my studies here at UVic. I immediately fell in love with the campus, the students, the staff and the services, but there was still something very important missing for me. It was a space on campus for international students. When I first heard about the International Commons, I literally did a dance of joy! —Kade Hardy-Agueh (Child & Youth Care) from Ghana

“The International Commons is a welcoming space where international students can find academic help, information, resources programming and service to support their academic success,” said Tremblay. “It is a place to assist our international students to adjust to a new cultural academic life, and it is there to shape their transition into a positive experience. It is a global space for intercultural exchanges for our domestic and international students—a location for collaborative work, knowledge creation and generation and innovation for all students whether they happen to be local, national or international.”

  • Frequently, I try to make eye contact with people. Most often, after the initial glance, they look away. When I am at the International Commons, there is one crucial difference. Whenever I catch eyes with someone, they don’t look away, they smile. It is gestures like these that define people. —Michelle Spelay (English) domestic student from the Comox Valley

The creation of the International Commons, originally envisioned by Tremblay, involved the collaboration of many partners from all across campus, including the active participation of an International Commons Student Advisory Committee. The Learning and Teaching Centre was responsible for leading program development.

“We offer a wide range of academic and sociocultural programs created to address the identified needs of students,” says Acting IC Coordinator Anne Cirillo (BA English), who is also a master’s student in applied theatre.

  • It takes courage, courage, and more courage to leave everything behind and to start a new life; it takes help, connection, and guidance to achieve what we aim for. The International Commons combines what we bring with us – dedication, dreams, and talent—with what UVic has to offer – resources, facilities, and inspiration—to paint a brighter picture for all international students. —Jill Fu (master’s student in applied linguistics) from China

A quick scan of the IC website ( shows a cornucopia of offerings including conversational cafes in eight languages; career counseling assistance; workshops on health promotion, dealing with academic stress, classroom communication, and time management; a book club; an intercultural learning group; individual academic support from members of the Golden Key International Honour Society and on and on.

  • Identity politics have consumed my life. I blame academia, although it was self-inflicted. Meeting people who converse in Italian, Chinese, or their hands, amongst the academic chaos, has been the emotional connection between peers that identity politics and international borders couldn't have foreseen. —Daryl Lucero (Indigenous Governance) from Isleta Pueblo located in New Mexico, USA

Clearly the International Commons has struck a chord across campus. Its comfortable space in the Mearns Centre for Learning has become a favoured spot for study and intercultural conversation. The creation of the IC has helped spur the revival of the International Students Society at UVic, which, in just a few months, has grown to include a membership of more than 400. And 35 students continue their participation in the IC as volunteers, who, among other duties, helped conceive, organize and present the official opening ceremonies.

Video of métissage performance: