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Diversity Ambassador Reflection: Nyaninni James

Curiosity is a gem…and especially in a new culture. There is so much to learn and so much more to experience. I have learnt that there is no ideal way to prepare for this journey, however being involved in activities inside the college community helped me to handle the culture shock and embrace the change. Early into my first semester I had joined the intercultural mentorship program which I would say “whet my appetite” for making social connections. On one of my knowledge seeking trips to the International Student Department, I was introduced to the role of the Diversity Ambassador.

It sounded like a great opportunity to support international students from across the world who were on a similar educational journey but have very different cultural backgrounds. I did not know I was going to be exposed to so many cultures in Winnipeg and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn about them while contributing to the international student experience. However, I started my application and then things took a twist, the pandemic hit. Most things were cancelled and I became hesitant because so much had changed. I did not think I could do this in a quarantined world. Thankfully, the deadline was extended, I got some more time to think about it and I changed my WHY, because the world had changed. My focus was now how international students would support each other as we navigated what was to come.

I was most grateful for the appointment and the work began. I recall how preparing for the first virtual orientation sessions was absolutely nerve wrecking. Rehearsing with the Student Support Coordinator and the other Diversity Ambassadors was the first of many collaborations to come, even though the Diversity Ambassadors had never met in person, and we were not sure if–or when–that would happen. What was certain is that we were in good hands! An orientation, rehearsals, some more rehearsals and I was ready. I was given my first breakout room to host, I fought back the nerves and got through it, and that is where I started to build by leadership and communication skills in my new environment. What helped me was recognizing that I was speaking to students like myself; all wanting to learn about my journey, and whatever I could share that would guide them as they created their own path.

Nyaninni James, Diversity Ambassador 2020-2021

It was most exciting getting to plan and coordinate activities for fellow students. The question-and-answer panels were my favourite, some questions I could prepare for in advance, but being able to speak freely and unscripted was a major part of my growth. I loved learning how to say basic greetings in languages that I did not even know about and seeing students who were feeling shy or anxious turn on their camera and say hello. At times, I felt I had more questions than they did, and I would spend extra time in the breakout rooms trying to meet and learn something new about all present. Participating in multiple virtual sessions prepared me for other aspects of my personal and professional development that I did not anticipate. Some things that readily come to mind include moving from face-to-face learning to a virtual platform, adjusting to life in the cloud, networking, and managing a busy schedule.

A memorable experience was in November 2020 where I was privileged to share some of my diverse learning experiences as a Community Development student with fellow international students. As newcomers, it is important to understand our role in reconciliation in Canada. We come from diverse backgrounds and it is our responsibility to understand that we have entered a diverse land. I got to plan and host a webinar in partnership with the School of Indigenous Education themed “An International Introduction to the Indigenous Community.” This involved connecting with college staff, external organizations, and my fellow Diversity Ambassadors and I recognized that virtual sessions take a lot of planning and coordination and learning to navigate through things that were not going well was a major learning opportunity. This helped me transition into my first co-op placement also in November 2020. I never anticipated that I would be hosting multiple virtual sessions weekly, with persons I was only just meeting as part of my project requirement. Thankfully, I had started to gain some level of comfort from hosting virtual sessions as a Diversity Ambassador, which helped me throughout that period.

I enjoyed the aura of diversity experienced in our by-weekly Social Connections sessions. I got to meet with students studying in their homelands, some on time zones that required going to school in the night, sleeping during the day, and learning about the adjustments they were having to make to continue their studies. It was good to know that students could start thriving in networking activities even before getting here. There were also many students who were already in Winnipeg, making use of the opportunity to connect. I also got to learn about their cultures while sharing some of what I have learnt about Manitoba’s sightseeing locations and events. With each session, I learnt how to be natural in my presentation, manage the nerves, speak confidently and share experiences from my journey.

I could not have anticipated what this experience would be like. Uncertainty and change will be a constant part of life. As International Students, we are in a unique position to tap into all the diverse aspects of our new environment. Each virtual session came with expert guidance from the Student Support Coordinators and the supports offered by the college community helped me at each stage and with each change. I have seen how my leadership and communication skills have grown over the past year.

As International Students we have so much diversity to bring to the table and participating in volunteer activities such as becoming a Diversity Ambassador is a good platform to be creative, work in teams, learn the Canadian culture, meet new people, and have a great college experience. Special thanks to Norlan Page, Norman Umali, Vera Godavari, my fellow Diversity Ambassadors and all who connected with and supported me over this past year.

My final thoughts…sign up and make the most of your college experience!