babel of inclusion
The university environment
is decisive in the development
of foreign researchers
by Ronald Sclavi
Place in the same classroom Brazilian, Chinese, Peruvian, Colombian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese and Lebanese students. Add to the different nationalities the need for isolation imposed by the pandemic. Now try to reconcile languages, cultures, habits, and individual stories so that this group may progress at a leading university in search of quality learning.
This was what Helena Ferreira Leal de Carvalho Toledo, a microbiologist who lived in Salvador, Bahia, found when he joined the doctoral program of the University of Montreal in 2020, shortly before the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic. A situation that could have been chaotic has become a very rich experience for her and for foreigners who seek a scenario of excellence to develop their theses at that university.
At first, the researcher – specialized in the development of resistant bacteria in hospital environments, with a master’s degree from Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – sought an opportunity at an English-speaking university, a language she already mastered. However, in view of the affinity with researchers from UdeM in her area, she approached this French-speaking school with more than 140 years of tradition.
In addition to the synergy with researchers, the official reception was one of the reasons that led to her choice. Helena was positively surprised by the website translated into Portuguese and the program of ambassadors. The doctoral student was welcomed by Brazilians who guided her on university issues and in relation to immigration, documentation and other essential formalities for this journey.
Even remotely, Helena went through the ‘Frenchening’ process, which aims to bring the student from an intermediate level to an advanced level of language mastering. “The course taught me French, but it also prepared me on what to expect from the university and the virtual education platform.” According to Helena, this process also involves specific writing and discussion techniques to be used in the academic environment.
The researcher then started taking two elective courses of her doctorate. “Despite some difficulties, professors are helpful and do not let students feel embarrassed by initial obstacles, such as language mistakes. We can also send them questions by email and they are thoughtful in answering them,” says Helena. Video-recorded classes with transcription available to students are also among the resources that helped Helena in the beginning of distance learning.
The permanence of the Brazilian in Canada, as well as part of her tuition, is funded by the Merit scholarship program for foreign students (PBEES), a governmental program for foreign students. Helena’s research has also received public funds sent to the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectiology of UdeM.
The Brazilian Francisco Loiola – philosopher and PhD in psycho-pedagogy – who is a full professor at the Faculty of Education of UdeM points out that the university dropout rate for foreigners is lower than for Canadians, an unusual phenomenon that is partially explained by the welcoming policy available for foreign students. “It is an experience that has transformed the population of Quebec itself. Today there is a different social attitude, that accompanies the arrival of these students,” he says.
The professor recalls that the process of admission of a professor to the university pays special attention to the teaching skills of these professionals. It takes five years for a professor to reach the status of a full professor, that is, to be definitely part of the the faculty. One of the decisive tools for admission is the evaluation by students taking into account 20 questions related to pedagogical aspects.
Loiola also recalls that the improved teaching environment in Canada is not limited to higher education. In the first years of school, theses about inclusion have earned social attention and the follow-up of orthopedagogues that evaluate students with learning disabilities for a follow-up from primary school to university.
Even recognizing the heterogeneity of foreigners studying at UdeM, the professor admits that there is an environment that is increasingly prepared for the differences that mark this university experience. “There is an awareness of others. An inclusive awareness.”