International Centre helps Anfernee find his niche

There are any number of reasons why students choose to attend the University of Lethbridge – from class size to specific program offerings to finances and locale – different factors appeal to different students.

International students have their own set of criteria for choosing a place to study, and for Sichen (Anfernee) Zhou, the U of L carried a reputation for offering the kind of personal support he needed to achieve his educational goals.

As Zhou walked across the stage at Spring Convocation to receive his degree, it was clear the University lived up to its advance billing.

"I chose to come to Canada, first of all, to study," says Zhou of what brought him to Lethbridge more than six years ago. "What set the University of Lethbridge apart from other universities was that the U of L offered very good ESL (English as a second language) courses and at the time, my English was terrible."

Zhou spent a full year and a half in the International Centre for Students' (ICS) EAP (English for Academic Purposes) program, preparing himself both linguistically and culturally for the challenges of post-secondary studies. It began a continuing relationship with ICS that eventually saw Zhou working as a volunteer for the office.

"The International Centre helped me a lot when I came here, it started from picking me up at the airport to helping me find a local family to live with," says Zhou. "It really helped me fit in more quickly, especially in terms of learning the language."

A quick wit and sense of humour aided his transition to the Canadian lifestyle. Now 29, Zhou first recalls touching down in Lethbridge and wondering where all the people were. His hometown of Nanjing, China has a population of 7.6 million and on first glance, Zhou thought there were more cars than people in Lethbridge.

"I now know that there are, in fact, more people than cars," he jokes.

Zhou also felt he needed a "Canadian" name to better fit in and, with the best of intentions, picked up that of his favourite basketball player, Anfernee Hardaway.

"What I did not expect is that most Canadians often think I mispronounce my English name which should be, they think, Anthony," says Zhou. "I know now that Anfernee is an unusual name and basketball is not so popular in Canada."

Zhou has spent six years at the U of L and is graduating with a BA in economics and a minor in linguistics. He credits the U of L's liberal arts approach in helping him find his calling.

"By being able to take courses from different departments, I discovered language was my true interest," he says. "I have been inspired by really intelligent people who truly opened my eyes and enriched my tiny little life."

Given the role the ICS played in his development as a student, he says it was a natural that he would volunteer to help other students with their transition to Canada.

"Over the years, the International Centre helped me with all of my problems regarding immigration, study and so much more," says Zhou. "I am friends with just about everybody there; therefore, volunteering with the International Centre seemed so natural to me."