How International Students Can Embrace Canada as Their New Home
Resources and advice for international students new to Canada and the University of Alberta.
This article was written by Tendai, a third year student in Chemical Engineering.
Leaving your home and everything you know behind can be quite challenging if you're an international student, but Canada is your new temporary (or maybe even permanent!) home. Having come from Zimbabwe three years ago to study Chemical Engineering at the University of Alberta, I felt terrified about what was to come. Fortunately, there are several resources we international students can use, and certain things we can do, to make Canada feel like home.
When I was a first-year student, I had no idea these were available to me. Take this time to love where you are right now and enjoy every second of this new experience. Learning to love it makes everything a million times better.
Discover who you are
This is your time for a fresh start and to really start to explore who you are and what you are capable of. This is your chance to grow and rediscover your likes and dislikes; this could range from finding comfort in being alone by taking yourself on coffee dates, or finding the courage to just stop a random person on campus and introduce yourself.
The key is to step out of your comfort zone, and the beauty of this is that if you make a mistake (such as choking on your words or tripping in front of a crowd of people) you can always just find a different route to class because the school is that big! Find a friend you can go out and explore this new environment with regularly. Considering how most transport is free because of the Arc cards provided to us, the sky's the limit. Don't be shy when exploring Edmonton, and don't be scared to get lost. Getting lost and finding your way back makes for a good story to tell for years to come.
The most important lesson I have ever learned is that a good study strategy can go a long way. Most of us however, myself included, tend to panic during the semester and there is always a voice in our heads constantly reminding us that we have absolutely no idea what we are doing.
My advice on this would be to embrace that uncertainty. I started to watch YouTubers such as Mike and Matty, Vee Kativhu and Ali Abdaal for advice on how I could improve how I learn. It really is all about trial and error and finding what works for you, but the one thing I feel is most important is to make studying revolve around your life, not your life around your studying.
This is obviously easier said than done, but with my own experiences I can safely say it works. As an experiment I challenged myself in the Fall 2021 semester to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night despite my workload, and to my surprise both my quality of life and my grades went up. Find what works for you to get the most out of your studying without compromising your physical and mental well-being.
It's okay to not be okay
The concept of failure is one that I found difficult to come to terms with. It took me a while to realize that failure is a normal part of life and should be tackled head on. In truth, celebrating failure is a true challenge because as much as it is a chance to grow it still stings. I have found channeling energy into doing my best is better than trying to avoid failing, and this technique may help you perform better and stress less.
In the event that life happens and you get a grade you aren't happy with, it's not over. For starters, talk to a friend, an advisor, a professor or anyone you feel comfortable talking to. This will help you through the initial emotions. We are in school to learn and making mistakes is a part of the process. In some instances if you feel you need to talk to someone the university offers free wellness supports that can help you cope with the stress of school.
Clubs and community
To make a place truly feel at home you need to build a community and actively take part in the world around you. Clubs and societies are a wonderful way to make connections and friends, and be part of the university community. These provide exposure to so many different people from many different backgrounds at the university.
You could find a massive selection on BearsDen, and I'd strongly encourage picking something you are really passionate about. I would also encourage asking anyone you know how they are getting involved to inspire you to get started.
This is your chance to escape your schoolwork and focus on your interests whilst building crucial skills such as team building and communication, which are very powerful tools to have on your resumé. The International Students' Association is a great place to start and meet like-minded people who are having similar experiences as you when it comes to settling in. For me, becoming a UAlberta Ambassador and a Peer Undergraduate Research Liaison has opened many doors for me. The different people I interact with really provide me with a sense of community and a fresh perspective on life.
Stepping out of my comfort zone has been one of the best decisions I have ever made and in doing so I have grown and will continue to grow and learn what I love and where I would like to go in life. I would encourage you to do the same! It is as simple as trying and if something does not resonate well with you, leave it and find something else. The options are endless!
Handling culture shock
Culture shock might be something you experience which is completely normal. It is no secret that people do things differently depending on where in the world they are from. When you experience this, take it as a learning opportunity. These differences should be embraced because they provide us with an opportunity to learn about different cultures!
Spending time with people who have similar traits as you is wonderful, but when you branch out and make friends who come from different places around the world it becomes an adventure. Learning to connect with all kinds of people will broaden your knowledge and respect for how other people beyond your inner circle live. Even by making at least one Canadian friend you could get tips and tricks on all things Canadian such as how to combat the harsh and unforgiving winter.
Make time for family and friends back home
This is a great remedy for culture shock and homesickness. Before I left Zimbabwe to come to Canada my grandfather would constantly chant the phrase "East, West, home is best" to me and I couldn't agree with him more. The people at home provide us with that sense of belonging when we give them a call.
Our culture and way of living is something we carry with us no matter where we go and so we can't be disconnected from that for too long. I cannot stress enough how important the simple things such as forcing your parents to put your dogs on the phone are. It serves as somewhat of a reminder of where we are from and helps alleviate some of that homesickness whilst keeping us grounded.
Make time for the people that love you the most, and cherish your moments with them. These people played a huge part in who you are today, and staying connected with them in whatever way you can will not only help you, but them as well — I'm sure they miss you.
Making Canada your new home
Canada is a wonderful place to call home as an international student. The University of Alberta campus takes this even further by creating a welcoming environment with the right supports we might need to not feel alienated. Engross yourself in the resources provided by University of Alberta International, and don't forget to take a deep breath. Life throws more responsibilities at us the older we get so my last piece of advice is enjoy these years of getting to know and exploring your new home.
Check out UAlberta International