Candid Advice: Adjusting as an International Student

Being an international student abroad can sometimes make you feel like a fish out of water. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and scared. Having just completed my first year in university as an international commuter student at the University of Toronto, here are just a couple of helpful tips you can use to make your experience slightly easier.

1. Come to the country your university is in, at least a week or two before your university actually starts. 

I was lucky enough to have my family come with me a month earlier, since I was the first in my family to study abroad. Not only does this avoid long lines during immigration once you land (due to many other university students coming closer to when university starts), but also helps you get a headstart into getting yourself settled and becoming familiar with the area. Since I was going to be commuting, I took multiple rides through the subway to figure out how it works, different routes I could take while going to university and what problems I would face along the way. I visited the campus for three days, to get familiar with the facilities and resources around me eg. the bookstore, libraries, restaurants etc . If you get your class schedule beforehand, figure out your routes from class to class. I would really recommend going sightseeing if you get the chance. Setting up a number of things, such as your university’s identity card, opening up student bank accounts etc. beforehand will help you get away from this hassle as soon as possible.This was definitely a huge advantage for me, knowing that I’d want to spend orientation week with my friends and focus on having fun. 

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2. Dealing with homesickness

Regardless of how your university experience is going, you can’t help but feel homesick for a few days. Being Indian, I missed my mother’s home-cooked meals and eating authentic Indian food. Even thinking about the smallest of things that remind you of home can take a big toll on you sometimes. A few things I’d recommend are:

  • Going for events organized by cultural clubs in my university – Joining your culture’s clubs will not only help you feel like home, you’d also get to meet other people who are most likely facing similar experiences as you. It definitely feels nice to be surrounded by people you can relate to and reminds you that you’re not alone. Going to these events and celebrating your culture will do more wonders than you realize. Plus, you could even get some special restaurant recommendations that do sell authentic meals from your culture.
  • Staying connected to home – Make sure to call your parents/friends back home and connect with them once a while. Even if you have a busy schedule, having at least 15-minute conversations will really help you stay grounded and realize why you came here. Being in touch with friends over social media or video calls can be more helpful than you think. This isn’t something you need to do 24/7, but don’t excuse putting off calls just because you have “too much on your plate.”
  • Creating a structure to your routine – Having a fixed schedule to follow can act as a distraction to your homesickness and will give you other things to focus on, rather than being consumed in your own thoughts. Engage in some de-stressing activities and focus on the positive things here in the present. Again, this isn’t to say that you should avoid addressing your homesickness, but it can be exhausting to think about it all the time so it’s good to give yourself a break for a while.
  • Socialize – Push yourself to start conversations and get to know people coming from different backgrounds. Talking to other international students fosters the sharing of perceptions. Befriending local students that will help you to adjust to their culture and answer any questions you may have can be very helpful too. Overall, keeping an open mind and being open to getting to know people from different backgrounds can help you observe how their backgrounds influence their behavior, and will further help you embrace this change in environment.
  • Reaching out for help – One thing I noticed in my first year (although it may not be true) is that a lot of cultures have some sort of taboo related to reaching out for help for better mental health. I really urge all of you to reach out to any resources available to you – counselors, academic advisors, learning strategists, crisis text lines etc. Don’t compare yourself to others who may seem to be dealing with their homesickness in a better manner. Everyone experiences homesickness differently. It’s important to recognize that and take steps you feel are necessary to you.

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3. Acknowledging your academic expectations

Not only will you be adjusting to a new country, but you will also be learning how to handle an academic system very different to yours. Understanding the expectations and taking it one step at a time will reduce your anxiety about school work. Talking to professors by taking advantage of office hours in the beginning of your semester, talking to your advisor and friends about what is expected at your university. This will soothe your nerves and help you approach your classes appropriately.

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I hope some of these tips would be as helpful to you, as they were to me. I want to end this article by reminding you that you are not alone. Things may get difficult at one point and it’s very easy to feel alone and isolated. Remind yourself of why you’re here, surround yourself with positive thoughts and energy, and do your best to make your experience here worthwhile.

– All the love. 

Rohina

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