Are you thinking of studying in Canada? Are you about to arrive or have recently landed? Make the most of your experience with these tips for studying abroad.
1. Things Will Get Real
Studying abroad is one of the best things you can do as an undergrad. You get a chance to see the world, learn about different cultures, get a quality education, and explore career possibilities. It’s all about adventure! There are also a lot of risks and unknowns that come with living in a new country, and you need to learn to take care of yourself and make well-informed decisions. You need to be able to adapt, plan, and look to the future, and also prepare yourself for what you are leaving behind. Like many students, my excitement and sense of adventure cooled down a bit when the plane landed and all of sudden, things got real and I realized that I was far from my family, friends and what was familiar. You may feel this way too. It’s okay.
2. Build Your Independence
Settling down in a new place may take some time. Try not to rush it and don’t get stuck if you begin to feel discouraged or don't feel positive all the time. Connect with others by attending an event or joining a club and you won’t feel so alone – chances are, other exchange students are facing the same challenges as you. Sometimes, I have been very lonely, anxious and felt homesick. Remember that it is normal, especially in the beginning, and I have found that by learning to rely on myself and remaining open to the possibilities that a new experience offers, I know more about my likes, dislikes, and how to stay resilient when facing uncomfortable situations.
3. Stock Up for the Journey
Educating yourself is important to ward off fears and anxiety. Visit the college or university’s official website to understand the university system because it may be different from your previous education system. Email or talk to an academic advisor or international student advisor on how to do well in a new environment. In addition, take the time to research any exchange funding if it is a necessity for you. Read blogs that students may have written about their own experiences. I have found that being prepared will be beneficial in planning your trip and for organizing your arrival.
4. Begin to Make Friends
You might be on an exchange purely for academic reasons, but making some friends makes life so much easier. Search the university's Facebook group, page, current events, or other social media channels, such as Instagram to learn more about the campus culture and opportunities to make friends. Find out about other students who might be going on exchange and arriving the same time as you. You could also get in touch with a mentor and they can introduce you to others when you arrive. I have found that preparing some conversation topics in advance might help, while offering to organize a book exchange, movie night, or taking a walk and exploring the campus together are other good ideas.
5. Live Where You Will be Supported
Before I came to Canada, I had one year of university experience in my home country. Because I lived far from the university and didn’t get involved in campus activities, I felt quite isolated. For my experience at SFU, I wanted to live on campus and be near my classes. Living in residence has been not only been positive for my grades, but also made my integration to Canada easier. I have discovered places to study, built friendships, and started my first job as a CA (a Community Advisor) in residence. Living, working, and studying on campus has given me a sense of belonging here at SFU and in Canada.
6. Celebrate Differences
A step towards stepping outside of your comfort zone is to try and branch out of your immediate friend circle. This will help you transform, grow up, and gain confidence. Plus, it’s exciting to make friends from other countries! I have friends from Canada, the Middle East, and Europe, and we have bonded over being different, but also the same. We laugh all the time and bond over our unique cultural experiences. For example, my friends think my east-meets-west way of cooking spaghetti with chopsticks is hilarious!
I have also learned about cultural diversity in Canada – the importance of being open minded, and respecting others' differences. We are learning that it is okay to not know everything and that we can learn together.
7. Say “YES!”
The more you explore, the more experiences you will gain. Keep an eye on the university’s human resources website and recruitment fairs to see if you can find employment that matches your interests. Take baby steps to get involved. Apply for a peer leader position, join a club, or volunteer in your community to build your network.
8. Prepare to Change
If I think back to my original goals when I first came to SFU, all I wanted was to make a few friends, get good grades, do something that others typically don’t do, and return home. Instead, I have gained so much more than I could never have imagined by coming to Canada and studying at SFU. I have met some amazing people who have had a positive impact on my career, my life, and learned that there is so much more in the world outside the sphere of my comfort zone. I got inspired to do things I hadn’t even considered before, such as doing a Co-op, volunteering, and getting to know people outside of the classroom. Even though I still have those original goals, my horizon has broadened considerably.
9. Take Charge
In the book, "The Third Door," author Alex Banayan talks about sacrificing short-term pleasure for long term gain and how good time management leads to success. When I started to work as a Community Advisor, I was taking four courses and I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope. As it turned out, I got a way better GPA than the semester when I was not working! Through this experience, I enhanced my organizational skills, interpersonal skills, and built up a network while keeping my grades up. Even though I sacrificed some social opportunities and leisure time, I was learning how to prioritize my work and school. After I sailed through it all, I felt a sense of “I did it!” and now I know I can work under pressure and take charge!
10. Your Adventure Awaits
I’m excited for you and your adventure and wish you well for every moment of your time studying in Canada. I hope you create some memories for yourself and since YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, let yourself be open to things and appreciate the joy of discovery. I want to leave you with these questions:
Why do you want to study abroad?
Do you have specific goals or intentions? Are they flexible?
What kind of a person do you want to become?
Banayan, A. (2018). The third door: The wild quest to uncover how the world's most successful people launched their careers.