When I taught in Canada I would often have international students in my classes; mostly Asians. Over time I learned to tell the difference between North Vietnamese (Nguyen) and South Vietnamese (Nguwen) last names. I would always ask Muslims if they were honouring Ramadan and seek to sensitize my class to their situation. I enjoyed the cultural and social perspectives they brought to our discussions.

But teaching in Malaysia takes the concept of ‘international student’ to a whole new level. I had my first class today and as I always do took the time to have the students introduce themselves and say something about where they are from. The answers were revealing. I heard Malaysia many times, of course, but also Sabah, Indonesia, China, Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Zambia, and Kazakhstan; all within a class of twenty students! In the past I have also had students from Vietnam, Mongolia, Iraq, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania. The only students I have taught that could even loosely be described as Caucasian have been from Kazakhstan.

The perspectives that such a multi-ethnic group bring to my classes are interesting and richly rewarding. In such a diverse group, students learn to listen and develop respect for how other people see the world. They learn to be less dogmatic about their own culture and religion and understand how their own views can be accommodated within a larger worldview. It is a win-win situation for everyone, and an exciting classroom environment to teach in.

Some Canadians worry that with such an open immigration policy (the official target of 1% per year has resulted in a population growth through immigration at just under 25% in the last 25 years, a rate that places Canada’s immigration rate among the highest in the world; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Canada ) our very way of life is threatened. I see the glass as half-full. I think our way of life will only be enriched and strengthened as immigrants bring their own vital perspectives to bear on the wonderful mosaic that is Canada. I know that the cultural mix in my classroom has only brought me joy and appreciation for all the flavor and colour that diversity brings. As the French in our nation would say, vive la difference!

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