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International education: an address to and from an exchange student

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Canada is quickly jumping up the ranks in terms of being a dream destination for immigrants from around the world, especially among the South Asian communities, where it is lovingly called “Kanedda.” Canada’s policies concerning immigration are quite welcoming, in contrast to many other countries where borders are being re-established with the use of colossal walls. As a result, I’ve seen interest in international education skyrocket. That rise in international education is one of the several factors that give Canada its reputation as a multicultural country. But are international students feeling as welcome as promised?

In Punjab, moving abroad is a career — and no, that’s not a metaphor, it’s actually a career. It’s far more work than anyone in high school would ever expect. What’s even more astonishing is that high school students are completely clueless about the details of the journey they’re seeking to embark on. Culture shock is one of the numerous things international students must deal with. There are so many first experiences as you try to adjust that it’s difficult to conclude if you liked them or not. It happens all the time. We can all try to like them, and pretend to “blend in,” but initially, we all feel intimidated. Thankfully, Canadians are very accommodating people. (So far so good!) Even coming from a nation that has one of the biggest economies in the world, and has made some great strides in establishing infrastructure in the recent past, the first couple of days in Canada were still a moving experience that will be ingrained in my memory for the rest of my life. But I think we all can agree that it takes some time to sink our teeth into an entirely diverse sociocultural environment.

Another potential issue is the language barrier, but for UFV students, that’s covered by English qualification examinations. Nevertheless, some have a hard time coping with a foreign accent. The real problem is that formal language examinations fail to test the candidate’s knowledge about very fundamental cultural terms, slang, and phrases. Because, let’s face it, nobody speaks their mother tongue like a news anchor.

Managing expenses and living on a tight budget are quintessential hallmarks of student life regardless of whether you’re domestic or international. It’s one more thing to worry about, in addition to dealing with academics, activities, a job, and doing your own laundry. Plus, here in the West, where commodities don’t exist in a fixed-price market, it takes a little while to figure out how much things cost, and how many of them you really need. The first couple of weeks are normally about buying way too many, or too few, groceries. It gets much easier once you come to terms with the fact that you cannot avoid certain expenses. Another aspect of dealing with finances is getting used to the new currency. Even after living here for about a month, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between coins. The value is in way too small fonts, the 5 cent coin is bigger than the 10, and just about as big as 25 cents. What’s a loonie? And a toonie?

Stepping out of the house for the first time, and moving to some place far away from your family tends to be scary and depressing at first, but these are challenges that you have to face to see a better you. Trying to give in to the new culture, and being more receptive to that environment, rather than fussing about everything, is the best way to deal with it. Sure, you can join clubs and volunteer, but in the end, it all boils down to your own mindset. The experience may start with some bad days, and independent life may prove quite challenging, but it’s only a matter of time, and you’ll adapt to this system. If you let yourself explore, you will not believe what capabilities you had in yourself, and what this world holds for you.

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