International students practise English, job skills at UPEI boot camp

UPEI holds a boot camp every year for domestic and international students. The International students learn to translate past experiences and academic work into employment skills for the current P.E.I. job market.

Boot camp helps students emphasize strengthes

Instructors Bonnie Stewart and Tara Corman are leading UPEI students in creating good resumes and preparing for interviews. (Karen Mair/CBC)

A group of International students is trying to turn a dreaded job interview question on its head.

No one really wants to answer "What are your weaknesses?" but these students are learning to shape what could be a negative into a positive. 

Instructor Bonnie Stewart nods when a student says her English isn't so good. She helps the student adopt a new spin: "I'm working very hard to improve my English and I also speak three other languages."  

My first choice is some job related to my major, but something like cashier is OK too, because I want to get some working experience.- Mengyn Zang 

"Students are hearing that today's kids don't have job skills," said Stewart who designed UPEI's Job Ready Boot Camp.

"There's been a breakdown in communication in what counts as job skills. These students have lots of skills, but they have to communicate those skills in ways that match what employers want to hear."

Mengyn Zang is a second-year computer science student with lots of volunteer experience. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Second-year computer science student Mengyn Zang is from China and she's looking for a summer job. The university's International Student Centre encourages volunteering for practice in English and getting work experience.

Zang volunteered in Summerside and on-campus in computer-related roles.

"I worked to promote communications between generations and I helped teach middle school students programming," she said. 

"My first choice is some job related to my major, but something like cashier is OK too, because I want to get some working experience."  

'Showcase myself'

The boot camp is composed of online modules and face-to-face workshops. Once their resumes are prepared, the students role-play interviews and provide feedback.

Cai Lim graduates in May with a degree in foods and nutrition, and hopes to stay in Canada once she has the correct permits.

Bonnie Stewart has students work in small groups so they get more experience practicing interviews and improving resumes. (Karen Mair/CBC )

"This class helps me showcase myself by translating what I've learned in my academic classes and how it relates to employment," she said. Lim hopes to get an entry-level food service job and work her way up. 

Stewart says the international students often aren't sure whether to put previous experience from their homeland on a resume.

"We tell them, 'Your skills are really something you carry for life, recognize the competencies you do have.'" 

Cai Lim, right, is graduating from UPEI in May with a degree in foods and nutrition. She wants to get a job in the field and stay on P.E.I. (Karen Mair/CBC)

"I really want to have a job experience in Canada and learn the working culture here," said Zang. "I have learned so much, but also that it's similar to Chinese job marketing." 

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Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.