Fitting in as an international student

Moving halfway across the world is never easy. For international students who are seeking a better education, more job opportunities or a new cultural experience, adapting to a new environment is the first step to achieving their goals.

According to the UBC Annual Report on Enrolment 2012/2013, 8,440 international students from 154 countries were registered at UBC last year. These students comprised 17 per cent of the student population. Enrolment in undergraduate programs has also increased 14 per cent over the year before.

Adjusting to life in Vancouver

20-year-old Ria Singh is an international student from Indonesia studying business. She wanted to pursue post secondary education abroad because she says the universities in Indonesia are not up to international standards.

Coming from an international school in Jakarta, she thought that she was culturally prepared to meet Canadians. However, she realized that there were some major differences in lifestyle. Singh says that in Jakarta, it was the norm to have a maid and a driver but she felt that Canadians would not understand if she revealed that to them.

“My maid was like my best friend but you feel like you have to hide a piece of yourself and contain your identity,” she says.

Now that she has been in Canada for a year, she feels more at ease with being herself. She says joining clubs such as the International Student Association has also helped make her feel more at home knowing that there are other people from her home town out there.

Taiwanese graduate Leo Chen says that he found it difficult to have conversations with other Canadians because of cultural differences.

“Guys like to talk about sports and in Canada they like to talk about hockey so if you don’t know anything about hockey it is difficult to join in,” he says.

On the other hand, amidst the cultural differences, new perspectives can be found.

“Multiculturalism was one of the biggest benefits of studying here,” Chen says. “I learned to see things from a different point of view after working on group projects with many different people.”

For Sailesh Daswani, a chemistry honours student, the UBC Jump Start program really helped him adjust to life in Vancouver. The two week orientation program for international students is a mix of workshops and social events as well as outings across Vancouver.

“[The program] really teaches you how to use transit and how to live on residence,” says the 21-year-old from Hong Kong.

Overcoming language barriers

International students studying in SFU's English Language and Culture Program. | Photo courtesy of SFU Continuing Studies.

International students studying in SFU’s English Language and Culture Program. | Photo courtesy of SFU Continuing Studies.

According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education, Canada is the 7th most popular destination for international students with students from China, India and Korea representing a large portion of foreign students.

Holly Liu, a 24-year-old Food Market Analyst student from China had always expected to go abroad and found that language was her greatest challenge after arriving in Vancouver.

“The slang used here is different than what I learned in China and the writing style is different too,” she says.

The language barrier didn’t stop her though. To remedy her language skills, she hired a private tutor to help improve her writing as well as correct her grammar. Liu also states that the education system in North America fosters more opportunities to explore your career path and personal interests.

“There’s more experiential learning here [compared to China] and you’re not just learning from books,” says Liu who had transferred to UBC from Langara College.

Despite difficulties adjusting, one thing that many international students have in common is the desire to remain in Canada after graduation.

“Because you’re going to a more renowned university with higher standards, the job opportunities are a lot greater too,” says Singh.