It’s not easy being an international student. For one, you’ll be leaving an entire support system behind with the challenge of gaining independence in a foreign country ahead of you. As an 18-year-old, I arrived in Canada on a whim about two weeks before school started. I had missed my school of choice in the UK by one exam point and was planning to retake the course during my gap year. However, I was lucky enough to be offered a substantial scholarship at a Canadian school and so I decided to fly 12 hours over the Pacific Ocean to begin a new life. 5 years later, I can confidently say that my life is in Canada now— my original plan to move back home upon graduation took a 180. Choosing to be an international student will accelerate your personal growth and broaden your outlook on life, something you can’t learn in classes. Here are a few things that helped me along the way:
Make Canadian Friends
I cannot stress this enough. Many of my close friends from back home ended up at the same university as me, but it was imperative for me to make an effort to befriend some locals. It has made the transition period that much easier— from learning local customs (like how much to tip or saying thank you to bus drivers), to finding the best local hangouts and sweet deals for students around town.
Find an Adopted Canadian Family for the Holidays
As a foreign student, holidays can get pretty lonely. If you’re not socially awkward and are a good friend, chances are your Canadian friends will feel sorry for you and invite you home for Thanksgiving. I’ve been blessed to celebrate Thanksgiving with the same family for 5 years now and it gets better every time.
Get a Job
Getting a job (preferably off-campus) allows you to leave the bubble that is your university campus. My first job as an events promoter allowed me to see a lot of the city and meet people from all walks of life. Working off campus gave me broader perspective and tangible real world experience—things missing from most undergrads’ resumes. The extra spending money won’t hurt either.
Utilize your School’s Resources and Support System
Most universities of post-secondary institutions have a dedicated team of support staff for international students. Since you’re paying an arm and leg for tuition, use this to your full advantage – the International House at my school helped me apply for healthcare, get priority registration for classes, defer exams for flights, and even did my taxes! Also, orientation programs for international students will give you a head start in adjusting to life in Canada. My one regret in my university career was deciding against going.
Join (and Quit) as Many Groups as you can
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Join different clubs to meet new people or just do it because the girl you like is in it. Then, (if necessary) proceed to never go back after one meeting. Chances are a couple of the groups will stick and will greatly enrich your university experience. I ended up getting heavily involved with the school radio and my faculty undergrad association. This landed me some pretty sweet summer jobs and grew my network.
Try to Stay for at Least one Summer
In Canada, the school year runs during the worst months of the year in terms of weather. If you can, try to stay for a summer. A lot of music festivals and cool events happen during that time and you’ll get to experience the city as a non-student. Being from the tropics, I’ve never experience a summer that was less than 35 degrees at 90% humidity. I must admit that summers in B.C. were one of the reasons I decided to stay in Canada.
Keep in Touch with your Friends and Family back Home
This is probably the most important thing to do—the transition from seeing your parents daily for 18 years to 3 times a year can be tough. In the early days you will feel especially homesick. I made an effort to talk to my parents at least once a week, and that made all the difference. You’ll be surprised to learn a different side to your parents. As you get older, they’ll hopefully become less like your parents and more like a best friend and mentor you can go to for life advice. Take advantage of this and keep reminding yourself (especially during exams) that they will still love you even if you fail.
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