Making the LEAP to a new culture

“I’m just going to chill tonight and crash on the couch.”

“Don’t be ditching any of your classes.”

“Can I borrow a loonie from you.”

These sort of phrases sounds familiar to most first-year students. But for those international students new to The University of Western Ontario – and to Canada, for that matter – it is a time of great transition likely filled with odd experiences, many changes and new expectations.

Continuing Studies at Western, however, is working on making that changeover as seamless as possible through Language Enhancement Academic Program (LEAP), a mix of academic, cultural and social activities designed to help the students become comfortable with their new learning and living environment before the official start of classes.

In its second year, LEAP is a 17-day program (52 hours) that includes classes, as well as social and cultural activities that will help students enhance their English language skills, make them more aware of the Canadian academic world as well as increase their social network.

Program instructor Susan Meehan says LEAP is designed to help students not only adjust to the culture of their new home, but more importantly to its academic culture.

“We start out by discussing culture in general, the ways cultures differ and how people from different cultures communicate differently and then look at strategies for handling misunderstandings that may occur,” Meehan says. “The program also helps them to become comfortable with London and the communities surrounding it by getting the students out exploring the area.”

This year’s 17 participants, which include students from China, Turkey and Israel, are informed about the Canadian academic culture and work on building their academic English skills such as listening to lectures, reading academic texts and articles, writing clearly, persuasively and with academic integrity, and expressing their opinions and ideas when talking with others.

Academic integrity is a topic area all students see as being crucial to their success, Meehan adds. For some, the concept of plagiarism is totally new and is topic included in the program.

“In addition, we present them with some pronunciation tips that will help them to improve their comprehensibility if accent is an issue for them,” she says. “Overall, the main goal of the program is to give them a safe, comfortable place in which to practice these skills and build their confidence and communicative competence before they enter the university classroom.”


A variety of excursions are included in the program such as tours of the downtown, shopping trips and visits to the Pinery Provincial Park and the Stratford Festival.

Meehan says Western’s concern for the well-being of their incoming international students is admirable, and a lot of people have put a lot of time and effort into making LEAP a success. And if it makes the transition into the university classroom easier, then the efforts are well worth it.

“We hope this program will leave the students feeling confident in their ability to interact successfully with classmates and professors from a variety of cultures, handle the academic workload they will face, read academic materials, participate in class discussions, write clearly and persuasively and understand their lectures,” she says. “If we can accomplish this, we have set the stage for their academic success and happiness here at Western.”