Kewoba Carter provides key supports to international students at Dalhousie.
Her goal is to see them thrive.
Kewoba Carter is often one of the first connections international students new to Dalhousie make when they arrive in the city. She’s an international student advisor at the International Centre at Dalhousie University and meets international students almost as soon as they arrive on campus. She gives them advice on visa and immigration issues and study permits.
“Their achievement means they can take the next step and nothing makes me happier than seeing them progress, develop, and grow,” Carter says.
Carter knows what it’s like to be an international student. She came to Halifax from Dominica, an island republic in the Caribbean. She arrived in Halifax in August of 2007 after spending a couple of weeks in Toronto with a family friend, a trip that included buying the proper clothes for a Canadian winter. Carter remembers feeling immediately comfortable in Halifax. She liked the friendliness of the residents.
“On my first day I thought, ‘I can do something with this place,’” she says.
Before she arrived in the city, Carter did thorough research on Dalhousie and Halifax. She knew exactly how to get to campus from the airport. She knew exactly the activities she wanted to try at school. Carter chose Dalhousie for its international development program. In addition to enjoying the classes, she also relished the chance to study abroad and went to Mexico as part of her studies.
“I’m one of those people who likes to read everything I can get my hands on before I make a decision,” she says. “I wanted something that had small communities, which is what Halifax has, while giving me some of the opportunities I’d find in a big city.”
Her family, who lived in Dominica and the United States, was less sure. They only had one connection in Canada, the family friend in Toronto who helped her buy clothes for the winter. They knew no one in Halifax.
“My family asked, ‘Why in the world are you going there?’” she says.
The stakes were high. There’s no student loan program in Dominica, so Carter took out a private loan to fund her tuition. Her father’s house was used as collateral. When she was in school, she was always thinking ahead, especially to finding a job.
“With my father’s home on the line, if I didn’t find a job he could be homeless,” she says.” It’s a driving force.”
And she didn’t waste much time.
Carter started working as a student assistant at what was then Dalhousie’s International Student Exchange Services. She started part time in 2008, working her way up to full time. Just before graduation, a contract job became available. She applied and had her interview the day after convocation in 2011.
While Carter considers Halifax home now, she still gives back to Dominica. In 2017, the island was in the path of Hurricane Maria. Carter’s father lost the roof off his house, the same house used as collateral for Carter’s student loan. With the help of her communities at Dalhousie, her church, and around the city, Carter did outreach and raised funds to help her father fix the roof. Some of the funds went into rebuilding a girls school on the island, too.
“I’m in the wonderful position of having that local knowledge,” she says. “I know where those needs are, but I’m also based here and can make partnerships here.”
“If we can continue to provide a space where young girls can go to school, I think that’s very powerful,” she says. “I’m very proud of the work we’ve done to get that started and I’m looking forward to that continuing.”
Besides working as an advisor, Carter, now 31, is also the orientation coordinator for international students. She’s responsible for creating a new program for students to transition when they arrive in the city.
For international students, she says, support people here can help them understand every experience from how to get from the airport and take the bus to navigating new relationships and understanding cultural differences such as how to address elders.
Carter also has a personal interest in health and wellness. It’s always on her mind when she’s giving advice to students. She understands how the anxiety and stress of being in a new place and new school can affect their health, and wants them to be as well as possible.
“I not only want them to achieve a degree or a job, but I want them to be healthy when they do so,” she says.
Some of the students Carter has worked with check in with her regularly, filling her in on their lives and progress. She even attends their convocations at year’s end.
“It gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction but also pride for that person because they started off here in this one place,” she says, smiling.