8-studentsI attended a student conference recently where students shared their experiences of being in Higher Education. I was surprised at how inspiring and moving some stories were. ‘Reflections’ is our latest addition to the Hub, here we leave our aspiring professionals to just share their stories. Story telling remains one of our most effective communication tools and we hope you will take something away from each one. In the first article of the series, Ebu will be sharing her experience of being an international student in Canada.

My name is Ebubechi and I am an international student in the first year of a Psychology course at Fraser International College (FIC), Vancouver, Canada. I will be transferring to Simon Fraser University (SFU) this fall (September 2015) for my 2nd year. The programme at FIC has been designed to prepare international students for integration into the Canadian University system as well as preparing for life as a University student. I would recommend a similar pathway to any international students considering embarking on an undergraduate degree in Canada. There is no difference in subject course content between the 1st year at SFU and FIC. The difference lies in how teaching is delivered. My classes are taught in a tutorial style format with smaller classes, allowing more interaction between students and teachers.

My experience as an international student here may differ slightly from other students as my education up to this point has been across two continents! Having started out my primary education in Nigeria, my Year 6 – 6th Form (Primary school – A ‘Levels) was completed in the United Kingdom. I guess this means I could say that I am used to what can be described as a ‘Western Education System.’ This also meant that my whole education had been in English and there were no language barrier to overcome as such. Despite this, there were aspects of the Canadian Higher Education system that were alien to me such as their grading system. Here, your performance in every class contributes to your Grade Point Average or GPA and you have to achieve a certain number (3.0 for Psychology) at the end of the 4 year course to obtain your Bachelor’s degree.

My lowest point was my first week here. I suffered from homesickness and I was surprised by how much I missed my family. I felt so alone, as this was my first time of going to a different country on my own. However, with prayer and the support of my family (thanks Skype!), I was able to overcome homesickness. I am very reserved by nature and it usually takes me a while to develop relationships in a new setting. However, when going to a new school, especially University, you have to remember that everyone you meet is in the same boat as you, i.e. being away from home and not knowing anybody. When I realised this, it was easier for me to start making new friends both in and outside of classes.

I started making friends who shared the same experiences as I did such as moving away from home for the first time and getting used to my surroundings (trying not getting lost so many times), everything started to fall into place and I became more comfortable. I have got involved in my college as part of the Campaign team which means I have to give talks to students on different issues that affect them like study skills and promote the services available from the University. This has helped me learn a lot more about the University as well as develop my communication skills.

For the most part, I have not found much about living here too different. Thankfully the spelling remains the same e.g. ‘colour’ is ‘colour’ not ‘color’! Thankfully, I live in Vancouver where the weather is a lot milder than other places in Canada. The weather is also very similar to London, i.e. rain, rain and more rain. If you are planning on moving to Vancouver, NEVER go anywhere without an umbrella. Please. A surprising discovery was how much everything is taxed here which in my opinion makes things much more expensive. In the UK, VAT is included in the price on the tags so you don’t really notice it. In Canada, like the US, it is not included in the retail price so you have to make sure you have enough money as you do not want to be embarrassed at the till! Generally Canadians are friendly people, of course you will find the oddball here and there but most people are very approachable and accepting as it is a very diverse country with lots of different cultures.

Preparing for life at University is difficult as students have to come to grasp with a totally different way of learning (insert independent!). Doing this in unfamiliar surroundings sometimes feels like an additional hurdle to overcome on the path to succeeding. My advice to international students would be to ensure that you look out for the support available from your University. In today’s connected world it is much easier to stay in touch with family and friends. It is hard but what about life isn’t?

Overall, I would say that I’m happy here and this is for several reasons. Going abroad to study has increased my confidence and independence beyond my imagination. Here, I am responsible for the choices I make and how I choose to conduct myself both at school and socially. Therefore, I would recommend that if you have the opportunity to study abroad even if it’s just for a year, take it. You are going to discover new things about yourself that you didn’t realise before.  Also, not very many people get the opportunity to study abroad and for that I will always be grateful.

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