When Engage Sport North first teamed up with Northern Lights College to take charge of their recreation and athletics department, their physical activity leaders had no idea that their quality sport programming would attract a disproportionate number of New to Canada Participants. But then students from places such as India, the Philippines, Kenya and Brazil began showing up for practice and competition. To support these participants, the organization began to tailor their offerings to their interests, hosting table tennis tournaments, soccer matches and even creating a rodeo team which is currently competing on the collegiate circuit.
Pretty soon they had a program consisting almost exclusively of New to Canada Participants, who make up a large per cent of the college’s population. When all was said and done, hundreds of students had been impacted by the programming according to Engage Sport North’s former executive director Mandi Graham.
“I joined intramurals last year when I first came to Canada, and I was searching for something to get together with other people and play sports, so it was a very nice experience as an international student to get involved because I’d just left my home. You come here and there’s no one you can talk to. Sometimes it gets depressing, because during the winter it’s all snow and you can’t go out,” said Vasim Khan, who now works as a program coordinator for Engage Sport North.
“It was a relief. It’s good for your mental health and it gives you a sense of belonging, because as international students we come from a country where we have everything like a family, friends, people to see you and talk to you. But when you come here, you’re all alone. You have to study and at the same time go to work, so finding something like this, even once a week, is a world booster.”
According to coordinator Chantiel Drschiwiski, the programming evolved depending on which students wanted to participate.
“The intramurals were successful for sure, but I think it was successful because it allowed students to learn that sport was available. And then those students that were taking part weren’t stuck there, it could also lead to other drop-in sports. So they have even more opportunities to play,” she said.
Drschiwiski said the skating offerings were quite popular, particularly with students from countries who hadn’t experienced ice before.
“I quite liked that one because it gave people who hadn’t acquired those skills the opportunity to acquire them. So now they can go and attend public skating sessions or even go outdoors on the ice. We have some students with their own skates now, so we’re going to build on that.”
Graham said the growing interest in the college’s programming on its campuses, one in Fort St. John and the other in Dawson Creek, has led to some exciting partnerships with community organizations.
“All of our initiatives have been very well received and have played a role in providing opportunities for the student population, both domestic and international, to participate in recreation and sport activities. We are able to connect students with existing local sport organizations who have put together teams. These teams have competed in the local and regional sport community,” she said.
“We take the opportunity to link students to the local sport community.”
That’s something that is appreciated by the president of the college, Todd Bondaroff.
“Northern Lights College values the partnership we have developed with Engage Sport North over the past four years. The opportunities that Engage Sport North has provided to the students both domestic and international has positively impacted the culture within the institution and communities we serve,” said Bondaroff.
For Kabir Hosein, Sport for Life’s Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives, the partnership between Engage Sport North and Northern Lights College represents a great example of how New to Canada Participants can be embraced and empowered by a community.
“During the Sport for Life Summit in Prince George, I was given the chance to hear about this exciting partnership and I was thrilled to hear about its success. As Canada continues to welcome people from all over the world, it’s incumbent on us all to ensure that our quality sport and physical literacy systems can successfully engage everyone in the population, including those who are new. I would like to extend my congratulations to both these organizations for thinking outside the box and leading the way to foster belonging via sport and physical activity.”