Individual interviews revealed seven themes common to the lived experiences of each EAL nursing student. These themes included: Balance, Resiliency, Helping Others, Culture, Safe Place, Social Aspects, and Group Environment.
Balance. Many participants struggled to balance their personal lives with their responsibilities at school and/or work. Compared with traditional students, participants reported the added challenge of fitting into a new social environment and studying in another language. For some, academic overload was further coupled with the stress of raising a family and keeping up with finances. A participant explained:
My kids are complaining, “Mom, you're not playing with us. You're always doing your homework.” Sometimes I play with them, but not all the time…. I want to focus on my studies and also with my family. I can't divide myself into three parts— work, study, and the family.
Another participant stated, “I got fired because of school. My schedule doesn't fit their business hours…[and] they decided to tell me last minute, so I'm trying so hard to get a new job.”
Resilience. Despite the added challenge of fitting into a new social environment and studying in another language, many participants persevered through their challenges and succeeded in their studies. The participants believed that social networking, academic achievement, and a supportive school culture helped them conquer adversity and develop resilience. One participant explained:
Through people helping me, I got to know more people. I saw them working really hard and succeeding with their grades, so I thought I could do that too…. I gained insight into future years of nursing school…. Other people's stories gave me inspiration to work harder. They relieved some of my fears and anxieties about the future and not being able to do good.
Students also built resiliency through academic achievement. By learning from past mistakes and applying knowledge gleaned from the EAL Nursing Student Support Group, students found success in their schoolwork and became more resilient as individuals. One participant explained:
I think I'm more resilient now because of nursing school. All the stress and curve-balls that were thrown at me, I found ways to work it out. I found at the end, I became better than before.
Another participant explained, “I got good grades because this group…introduces how to learn effectively. I feel comfortable and competent in the university.”
Students also felt that the supportive school culture established by the EAL Nursing Student Support Group helped them build resilience in their studies. Participants felt supported in their struggles as EAL students and felt that someone was “interested in [their] welfare” (according to one participant). A participant explained, “You [facilitating faculty mentor] were the first person I was able to open up to. Programs like these make it more obvious that the school actually cares about their students.” Another explained, “I feel comfortable here. It's hard to explain…. I feel like someone has my back.”
Helping Others. The theme of “helping others” was apparent in several participant interviews. Participants felt that mentors and faculty at the EAL Nursing Student Support Group were genuinely interested in their well-being, and willing to “help people and not expect anything in return.” A participant explained:
Being able to teach people or pass on stuff that you learned… [that's] why I joined. I felt like I should do something more rather than just go to clinical, go to lectures, go home, study, and then repeat the same cycle.
Many participants were also inspired to become student mentors themselves and give back to the community. A participant stated, “Via mentoring…I am having fun. It is nice to help others.” One participant explained, “I want to promote this group…. I can present myself as one of the EAL members who got this opportunity to help other students.”
Culture. Participants were cognizant of cultural differences between their country of origin and that of Canadian culture. Many students felt isolated and struggled to fit into their new social environment. For some, adjustment to Canadian customs and traditions was also met with discrimination and rejection. One participant explained:
It's difficult to find a [Canadian who] understand[s] you…. [People say,] “you should try to understand me. You are in Canada, you need to change. You don't understand our culture, you need to be educated on it.”
Participants also felt that their lack of knowledge regarding Canadian culture interfered with their ability to form effective and therapeutic relationships with patients in the clinical setting. For example, one participant explained:
[The other students] are more comfortable [talking] to patients about the Western trendy daily things…which I can't, as I am not familiar with them. That's why I am so quiet in [the] clinical setting. They talked about topics (TV shows), which I am not interested [in].
However, students felt at ease in the EAL Nursing Student Support Group because they were surrounded by members of other ethnic minorities who often struggled with the same cultural challenges. A participant stated:
[The EAL Nursing Student Group is a] common ground for cultural viewpoints… You don't feel like you are totally different from other people and their beliefs… It was quite [helpful] getting to know other people's experiences as well, being able to learn from them, being able to find some connections.
Similar to earlier iterations of this study (Choi, 2018, 2019), participants in this study also suggested that having an ethnic role model to look up was important to them, stressing the need for culturally diverse faculty members. As many students felt a disconnect between themselves and their instructors, ethnic role models served as an important source of motivation and encouragement necessary for perseverance through the nursing program. A participant explained:
We don't open [up] that much to other profs. They don't really understand what you are feeling…the language, the culture. They all have good intentions and great professors that want to accommodate and understand you, but I feel comfortable here.
A participant stated:
I am so glad that I can look up to someone like you [the facilitating faculty mentor]. I am not sure I would join the support group if [it was] run by a non-Chinese [person], like [a] Caucasian. It is important to me to have someone who has similar background like me. You did it and I can make it too.
Safe Place. Many students cited the importance of having a “safe place” for disclosure, free of judgment or evaluation. One participant explained:
The experience is relaxing. I have nothing to do with you [facilitating faculty mentor] academically. You're not my prof and I don't have to hand in an assignment to you. We can talk about whatever I want … [I] feel safer to express my feelings.
Another participant stated:
I wanted…to have somebody here to talk and express my own opinions with, without thinking. I [wouldn't] say this to my colleagues…anything you say, it's an open window and everyone will know. It's good to have an outlet to express my thoughts by talking to you.
Having a safe place for disclosure and a trusted individual to confide in helped many students cope with the demands of education in a foreign language and the challenges of adjusting to a new social environment. A participant explained, “Talking to you [facilitating faculty member] helps lessen my stress…. [It helps] to cope in a lot of ways, to release that stress. Just… talking to you helps academically.”
Social Aspects. For this cohort of students, social aspects appeared to be the predominant reason for joining the EAL Nursing Student Support Group. Compared to the previous iteration of this study (Choi, 2018), the majority of students in this cohort were not in academic crisis. In fact, many students excelled in their studies and joined the group mainly for its networking opportunities and sense of community. When asked what students would like to achieve from this group, one participant explained:
Honestly, I just want to meet new friends…. I want to meet more friends like me, [who are] an ethnic minority…. I want us to have a voice, to be encouraged and supported [by] each other. I would like to [participate in] more social activities and have fun.
Another participant stated:
I feel this group helps to keep my mind, body, and spirit together…. [It] helps [me] make friends in [the] same field…. It is a strength when you know and have [a] connection with [a] few other students/peers in the same field.
Group Environment. Learning in a group environment provided students with an opportunity to meet a variety of like-minded individuals with similar challenges and backgrounds. Exposure to other students fostered peer friendships and allowed participants to learn from one another in a relaxed and supportive environment. One participant explained:
Being able to communicate in a group and also being able to help one another academic wise, it can reinforce your knowledge…in your lecture and clinical… Being able to share the experiences with other people, or an older mentor, actually, it gives [you] reassurance and…a few tips on what [you] should expect and how [you] should prepare.
Peer mentoring also served as an important strategy for facilitating student success and developing student engagement opportunities. Mentees were given valuable advice and direction in their studies, and student mentors were given opportunities to practice leadership skills and give back to the community.