People of SFU: Judy Shabtai helps international language students with advice to study in Canada

April 29, 2022
English Language and Culture program coordinator Judy Shabtai attained accreditation to help international students better navigate immigration rules to help them stay and study in Canada. Photo: Mitsue Pierfederici

If you’re a student on your own in a foreign country, it’s nice to know that someone is watching out for you.

For many students, that person is Judy Shabtai.

“It just feels really good to know that you are able to make a student’s life easier,” says Shabtai, program coordinator with SFU’s English Language and Culture (ELC) program.

“We want them to know that we’re here for them whenever they are in need of support.”

For Shabtai, this included becoming accredited as a Registered International Student Immigration Advisor (RISIA) to offer immigration and student visa advice to ELC students throughout the pandemic to help them stay and study in Canada.

As part of SFU's Lifelong Learning, the English Language and Culture (ELC) program has been helping international students to achieve their goals by providing English language skills training. The ELC program immerses learners in both the English language and the Canadian university environment, acculturating them to SFU and post-secondary learning in Canada.

“With our students, there is more support than is required for domestic students,” Shabtai says. “For the majority of our students, the ELC program is their first experience in Canada and often they look to us for help whenever they encounter unfamiliar situations that are difficult for them to comprehend because of language and cultural differences.”

When the pandemic struck, there was a lot of confusion, Shabtai says, especially around the rules for students travelling to Canada as travel rules and quarantine requirements were constantly changing. As a result, she began assisting students with navigating the changing travel rules and obstacles caused by the pandemic. She felt it would be a good time to take the RISIA course to better support students.

“It is no exaggeration to say that many students see Judy as an integral part of their support system here in Vancouver,” says Bertrand Lee, director of the English Language and Culture program. “She has advocated on their behalf on numerous occasions, providing advice and helping them settle into their life in Canada.”

On her own initiative, Shabtai decided to pursue the RISIA accreditation in order to advise students on immigration matters. With it, she’s able to reference legislation and help students with applications to acquire or extend their study permits at ELC. Her expertise has also been crucial whenever called upon to communicate updates to ELC university partners and agents throughout the pandemic about study permit eligibility and travel to Canada.

“The immigration aspect has really been useful,” she says. “The timing was right. I knew it would provide support for the students, but I didn’t know it would be so instrumental for us navigating as a team through the pandemic.

“I was fortunate and grateful to have guidance and be included in SFU initiatives such as the CARES Program. Carolyn Hanna, director of International Services for Students, and the ISAP (International Student Advising and Programs) team have been especially helpful.”

The response from students has been positive.

“I’ve had a lot of feedback from students who’ve said the guidance has been helpful for them,” Shabtai says. “It’s really made them more confident in finding their feet here. I do hope they continue to turn to me for support as the friendly Canadian who can help them feel at home away from home.”

This is a story in our People of SFU series, where we’re celebrating SFU’s unsung heroes—those who go above and beyond the call of duty to create community, advance SFU’s mission and make the university a great place to work and learn. You can read more stories here.

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