Kwantlen program wins award for outstanding international education

Thu, Jun 26, 2014

Metro Vancouver, B.C. – Dr. Wendy Royal’s vision was to create an equity-oriented approach to international education that benefitted ESL, international and Canadian students.

For decades – as a human rights activist in her native South Africa, a student at the University of British Columbia, a doctoral researcher in B.C. and an instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) – Dr. Royal has poured effort into championing the inseparability of social justice and international education in post-secondary learning.

Her work and research culminated in an initiative she founded in 2010 at KPU. Noticing the isolation of international and ESL students from local Canadian students – themselves often unaware of the rich culture, knowledge and experience international and ESL students contribute to the university – Dr. Royal established The Philosopher’s Teahouse. Unparalleled in B.C. ESL and international education, Dr. Royal’s Teahouse has created a space where students convene in small interdisciplinary and multicultural groups in a relaxed atmosphere, over good food. 

Each group is facilitated by a student leader who encourages students to socialize, listen to a keynote speaker and discuss the theme and guided questions, drawing from materials previously explored in their respective classes. Students exchange ideas, learn from each other’s cultural and academic perspectives, and identify ways to effect positive change on campus.  

On Tuesday, Dr. Royal’s program was recognized with a BC Council for International Education (BCCIE) Award for Outstanding Program in International Education.

“I’m thrilled and honoured to receive this award. Staging a Teahouse takes a tremendous amount of hard work and is not possible without the collaboration and support of my colleagues, as well as the enthusiastic participation of the students. This award is for all of us. To be recognized by BCCIE is very encouraging and validates what we are trying to achieve in building an inclusive, respectful and critically engaged community at KPU,” said Dr. Royal.

Along with KPU sociology instructors Dr. Fiona Whittington-Walsh and Dr. Amir Mirfakhraie, Dr. Royal has implemented a critical approach to English-language teaching that enables students to challenge inequalities collaboratively. By creating a place where students can discuss among equals controversial and topical issues, students learn new multicultural perspectives and, in the process, provoke change in themselves. One of the most important aspects of the events has been to encourage students to identify specific actions and strategies for creating positive change on campus and in their communities.

To date, The Philosopher’s Teahouse has motivated many international and Canadian students to critically examine and discuss social issues that transcend borders. An ambitious project, Dr. Royal has successfully engaged international perspectives in Canadian classrooms, and sent local cultural understanding and context abroad as international students complete their courses here.

Local Canadian and international students have enthusiastically endorsed the Teahouse for its transformative potential, and because it creates opportunities to share opinions and listen to others. Offering a unique perspective on ethnic and religious diversity when discussing conflict, a Russian student explains: “Everyone from my group was from different countries and religions. That’s why we understood the problem more.”

Faculty members have also praised the project, noting that it is in such a forum that ideas are challenged, critiqued and transformed. Dr. Jo-Anne Dillabough, David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education at UBC, nominated The Philosopher's Teahouse for the BCCIE award. She explains that while many educational institutions claim to engage with international education on a wide and far-reaching scale, Dr. Royal’s pioneering and ground-breaking work at KPU provides an exemplary model of authentic internationalization of education.

Past themes of the Teahouse have included the racialization of beauty; racism; gender and violence; navigating Canada’s multicultural mosaic, and; awakening the activist within, which featured guest speaker Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children.

Currently, Dr. Royal is developing an international education conference about human rights issues in South Africa. The event will focus on the work of Nelson Mandela, and feature several speakers from the country who will bring the worldwide issue of international education as a human right to Vancouver.

The BC Council for International Education award program recognizes professionalism, dedication and efforts of an exemplary group of experts and practitioners in international educational efforts within the province. 

Learn more about KPU’s Philosopher’s Teahouse here.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been serving the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 250,000 people. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs, including business, liberal arts, science, design, health, trades and technology, horticulture, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 124 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at


Caption: (From left) Dr. Randall Martin, executive director of the BCCIE with Dr. Wendy Royal, and Prof. Robert Buttery, head of international relations with the University of Applied Science & Arts Northwestern Switzerland, last year’s recipient of the Outstanding Program award.

Media contact:
Hayley Woodin
Media Specialist, KPU
t: 604.599.2883
c: 604.364.1288

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