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For International Students, 'Guidebook' Breaks Down Lower Mainland Life

New monthly mag aims to help visitors become Vancouverites.

Katie Hyslop 17 Jan

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

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Guidebook's motto: 'Study hard, play harder.'

Whether on a six-month school exchange or aiming to put down permanent roots in Canada, international students and immigrants coming to the Lower Mainland are hungry for information about their new home.

About 94,000 international students were studying in British Columbia in 2012, a number expected to increase 50 per cent by 2016. Earlier this week the federal government announced it wants to nearly double the number of international students to 450,000 -- up from a 2012 count of 265,377 -- by 2022.

And since 2006, an annual average of 42,000 new permanent residents started a life here. Over 80 per cent of both groups settle in the Lower Mainland.

But while there is plenty to learn about B.C. online, from educational and housing opportunities to nightlife and cultural offerings, D.I. Lee, a Korean-Canadian who immigrated to Vancouver in 1999, found newcomers had a hard time finding it, because of either language barriers or not knowing where to look.

Lee, the owner and publisher of Korean News, a community newspaper for Vancouver's South Korean diaspora, didn't think ethnic media was answering the common questions of newcomers, like where to study English, what the best cheap restaurants are, and how to apply for permanent resident status.

What new Lower Mainland residents needed, he decided, was their own magazine. So he created one. Guidebook Magazine has published monthly since October, offering summaries of local news, an arts and cultural events calendar, restaurant reviews, and a guide to shopping, eating, studying, and chatting up the locals in Vancouver.

"This is for all immigrants and all international students, and our text is middle school English. We try to write in easy vocabulary," Lee explained.

That doesn't mean the content quality is poor -- just pared down to a few paragraphs, written clearly and simply. For an alienated new student struggling to learn English, such a magazine can open up a world of difference.

Clue-in politicians to new constituent needs

Guidebook's inaugural issue in October, for example, offered advice for students seeking home-stays in Vancouver. It described how a typical North American family operates (hint: it's rarely what's shown on TV), discussed how to be assertive with host parents and warned students not to be shocked when the family dog is allowed to stay in the house and gets a kiss on the head.

Another article profiled places to travel outside of the Lower Mainland, noting festivals and attractions in other parts of the province.

"Even though they stay in Vancouver, 100 per cent (of international students) I interviewed were planning to go east to Whistler and Banff, and then the States," said Lee.

Guidebook is also an opportunity to clue-in politicians and policymakers to the issues important to their newest constituents. That's another reason for publishing in English, said Lee.

"In Korean, or Japanese, or Portuguese, the politicians in B.C., they cannot hear. So we have to write in English," he said.

Lee hopes to tackle several topics important to international residents, particularly Canada's immigration laws, which are a source of frustration for students who want to stay in the province after graduation.

"International students have to get some degree to apply as an immigrant, and they have to get a job after they finish their school, and if they don't get a job they have to leave," he said.

"In terms of opportunity, it's not fair. So we'd like to work on some changes [to] regulations. That is one very strong complaint from international students."

Advertisers, take note

International students are a large source of money and employment for the province -- the fifth largest sector of B.C.'s economy. In 2012, they contributed $1.8 billion to B.C.'s coffers in living expenses and tuition, and fulfilling their needs created 22,000 jobs.

Recent immigrants tend to cost money before they make it, but B.C. has one of the higher levels of immigrant employment in the country. In 2011, 75.4 per cent of the province's immigrant population was employed, with an unemployment rate of 7.4 per cent.

Businesses have much to gain from immigrant and international student patronage, said Lee, because newcomers are trying establish their lives from scratch.

"I came here with everything with me, and I have to start again. I need a banking service, I need a house, I need an education -- you name it," he described.

For Guidebook's target audience, their first contact with a bank, cell phone provider, even travel agent could be through an advertisement in the magazine.

"For example, they just opened an account with Royal Bank or Scotia Bank: it's for good," he said.

"They don't want to change it, go through the complicated process of opening a new account at a bank again… If you have a first contact with our readers, then they will go (to you) for good."

Spreading the word

Guidebook publishes 10,000 copies per issue and is available online, in Vancouver Public Library branches, community centres, at private and public post-secondary schools, in some coffee shops and Asian-Pacific convenience stores.

Lee hopes to expand it, and is in talks with a coffee-shop chain about distribution. If initiatives like this go ahead, he sees Guidebook's production doubling or even tripling in the future.

Guidebook is also looking for writers and editors. Although a successful publisher of a Korean-language newspaper, Lee doesn't feel his English is strong enough to manage editorial tasks in the long term.

He'd like further feedback, mainly from international students, about their lives and what they'd like to see in the magazine. Although Guidebook's website isn't fully functional yet, there are back issues available online, as well as a reader survey he hopes international students will take.

"I really hope to get more responses so that we can support them properly," he said. "I want to make (Guidebook) something different."  [Tyee]

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