New Intercultural Studies program is unique in Canada

Rhonda Kaassamani is in the first wave of students taking the new Intercultural Studies program at Saint Mary’s University. This new major dovetails perfectly with other areas of study, including Rhonda’s prior experience as an American Sign Language/English interpreter. 

“I want to be that person who can help mesh all the worlds together,” says the 22-year-old from Scarborough. “I’m first-generation Canadian, so I know what it’s like being in a mixture of different cultures. I feel like I’m in three worlds: the Canadian world, the Lebanese world and the deaf community.”

Also available as a minor, Intercultural Studies is an undergraduate Arts program offered through the Department of Modern Languages & Classics. Saint Mary’s designed it to be flexible enough for students to follow their own paths and pursue complementary interests in psychology, business, criminology, international development and much more.   

Luis Hernandez was intrigued by the program’s emphasis on global challenges such as rising migration, a subject he knows well. He had been working toward becoming a lawyer in Mexico, with a keen interest in international law, but he grew disillusioned with the legal system in his country and came to Halifax through the Atlantic Immigration Program. Taking Intercultural Studies as a double major with Political Science is a great fit with his legal background.

“It’s a new solution for immigration,” says Luis, 27. “This opens a new career path. I like the helping part – helping people is fulfilling.” 

Halifax’s Zane Main, also 27, was halfway through a languages degree when the new program clicked for him. It requires learning two languages beyond one’s mother tongue, plus culture courses. He also likes the study abroad and community service learning components; in May, he heads overseas to Kassels for the Canadian Summer School in Germany.

In the classroom at SMU, guest lecturers share insights and knowledge – students recently participated in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise with local Mi’kmaw Elder Debbie Eisan. The Intercultural Studies Program engages students in a reflection on language and power, communities and identities, and intercultural issues in a global context.

Saint Mary’s is the perfect place for Intercultural Studies because it’s such an international university, says Zane. “It’s really cool to be a part of it. It’s nice to walk down the hall and feel like I’ve gone around the world without even leaving home.”