The Rainy River District will become more diverse in 2023. Here’s why

Confederation College plans to launch an expansion of their international education program to their regional campuses this fall 2023, bringing diverse cultures to northern Ontario and filling the need for more health care workers.

Originally established in Thunder Bay, the international education program will officially expand to three regional campuses—the Rainy River District Campus located in Fort Frances, the Dryden Campus, and the Lake of the Woods Campus located in Kenora.

Practical nursing, personal support worker programs, early childhood education, and social service worker programs will be offered to foreign students looking for hands-on education and potential jobs after graduation. “These are the four programs that we are starting with,” said Claire Kelly-Orozc, manager of international recruitment for Confederation College.

The first concentrated effort to bring international students to Fort Frances started in 2018 with a cohort of students from India, Jamaica, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Positive feedback from graduating students and the on-going need for more health care workers initiated the program’s expansion to regional campuses.

The past week, Kelly-Orozc along with Sobia Azam, international marketing lead, visited the regional campuses to ensure that they were ready to receive international students.

During their tour, Kelly-Orozc and Azam spoke with one of the graduates residing in Kenora, who had received a job offer after completing her program and wanted to promote the program with friends and family in her home country.

They note that the international program grew in popularity through word-of-mouth from graduates who notified their friends and family about the opportunity to settle in Canada, and also through international representatives who work with agents in foreign countries to spread the word about the program.

“In the northwest, we’re really suffering from not having enough workers in all of these fields. COVID has really made that obvious, but especially in northwestern Ontario that has been an issue,” said Sandra Turner, director of the Rainy River District and Lake of the Woods campuses.

To address the ongoing need for more health care workers, Turner said they spoke with partners in the community about specific roles that need to be filled. This led to the focus on nursing, PSW, social service, and ECE programs.

While a majority of students choose the Thunder Bay campus, being the most similar to well-known larger Canadian cities and the location of the college’s main international center, Kelly-Orozc said that interest in regional campuses has increased.

A small community enables intimate learning settings, more affordable living costs, and increased job opportunities after graduation, compared to Thunder Bay where there is a more saturated population.

“With a smaller regional campus, you have more personal experiences. In Thunder Bay, the reality is it’s a lot of students. And here [in Fort Frances], we tend to know their names, the programs that they’re in, and so the support is just a little bit different when you’re in a smaller regional campus,” said Azam.

“And just to add a note as to why it is a great selling point for international students, is because if there’s a need in the community, it means that there is an immediate job right after graduation,” said Kelly-Orozc.

“We heard from both the students that there was a job before they even graduated. So that’s really key because international students are oftentimes coming for immigration, and they need a job to immigrate. So it’s a win-win situation.”

Once it is confirmed that a student is coming, the international recruitment team works to help the individual adjust through informational sessions highlighting how to navigate the new country, by connecting them with landlords and individuals from the same background, or even by posting call-outs for kitchen utensil donations.

“You’re you’re leaving your country, you’re leaving your family, you’re coming to a small community, which is not necessarily something that people are used to, so we try to make it as welcoming as possible so the shock isn’t as harsh as it is…This is the wonderful part of our small community. People want to help and they will help when the call-out is there.”

Accommodations, the lack of public transportation, and the local food are a few challenges for newcomers, said Kelly-Orozc. “We’re speaking with someone from Jamaica yesterday, and he said, ‘I really do miss Caribbean food.’ … But again, if we have more and more folks from different countries then that starts to come. And having people help with transportation or accommodation is huge.”

Kelly-Orozc has worked in the field of international education and immigration for the past 10 years. She observed that some Canadians might never consider moving to northern communities for work, whereas multiple graduates from the international program have expressed that they plan to stay and raise their family in the area.

“One of our first graduates from India, she is a practical nurse. She got a full time job before she finished her program. She’s got her three children here, one that was actually born here. And her husband is here working and they intend to stay for quite a few years,” said Turner. “Challenges?—yes, absolutely. We don’t want to paint it as a perfect situation. But we try our best.”

“And they may only stay three to five years, and then move on to Toronto or Calgary, but some will stay and they have chosen that. So that’s why we want to promote it accurately, so they know where they’re going,” said Kelly-Orozc. “We want this to be a success for the college, but also the students equally, because if the students don’t succeed, we don’t succeed.”

During their tour of the regional campuses, Kelly-Orozc and Azam interviewed the new owner of Dairy Queen in Fort Frances who has offered to help with accommodations and even raised money for the new incoming students.

“Hopefully the community is excited to have the added diversity,” Kelly-Orozc said. “People from different backgrounds, different countries, different walks of life give a new perspective and can come up with new businesses or new ideas for the community. That’s a huge win for the community. And it’s a win for the newcomer as well.”

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times