Alex Nguyen, pictured here in this archive photo, is president of the St. Thomas University Students' Union for the 2022-23 academic year. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

Three years ago, Carol Alvarez left her family in Ecuador to pursue her dreams of studying abroad. Her passion for helping others led her to involvement in community-oriented events and societies at St. Thomas University. Now in her third year, she is the recipient of the STU International Leadership Award for contributions to the Fredericton community.

“I was really proud, because I was really not expecting that. I just do the things that I do because I love to help. I just love to be part of a lot of societies, that is actually my break [from] school,” said Alvarez.

Her contributions span from involvement in peer support centres, local non-profit organizations, international student associations and entrepreneurship fairs.

In her second year at STU, she was the South American ambassador for STU’s International Student Association, a group committed to representing international students on campus to ease the transition to a new country, preserve cultural roots and share life perspectives.

“It’s great to see a lot of cultures [and] a lot of traditions being shared around campus – so that is basically the meaning of STUISA,” she said.

The association hosts an international education week every year, which features images, videos and foods from different cultures.

In her third year, she co-founded the Latin American Students’ Association to highlight the prevalence of Latin American culture on campus. She said she wanted to create a small space filled with “songs and little things that make you think of home.” She said the meetings are a place where students can discuss cultural norms in their Latin countries.

“Even though I am living in a different country, I don’t want to leave my traditions [behind] and I continue to practice them here.”

Alvarez said it’s important to have international representation on campus.

“Diversity is feeling that you are part of another culture and that you are still [represented] here in Canada,” said Alvarez.

She said it’s hard promoting diversity in a university because students are adapting to a new culture and thinks the university should create an international students’ day to help with the transition.

Though Alvarez said she sees positive changes in how STU students, faculty and staff members embrace diversity, there are still some challenges like how most financial bursaries and jobs are exclusive to Canadian citizens.

“We’re all [at STU] for the same purpose – to study and work … and they should be treating everyone equally,” she said. “Boundaries will [forever] exist … but being part of another country should not be a boundary.”

Alvarez also believes that membership in international student societies should be promoted to Canadian students and staff members to give them an opportunity to help international students share their culture.

“Coming to Canada made me realize to be proud of the country that you’re from … because that makes you the person that you are today,” said Alvarez