An inside look at what it's like to be an international student at a Canadian university
For Bangladeshis who are going to be international students for the first time, concerns over the details on regular day of a student life can be nerve-racking. These details play a huge role in affecting a student's overall university experience, and it is not uncommon to feel pre-departure anxiety over questions like 'Where will I be living?', 'What will the food be like?', 'Will people be nice to me as a foreign student?', 'Is it safe?' Et cetera. And these are all valid concerns.
But as former Canadian university student, Ankur Ahmed attests, when choosing a university in Canada, students are often quick to settle in.
“Canada happens to be a country where settling in for a student isn't hard,” he explains. “People are friendly and helpful. Living essentials and services are easily available. For a student new to the country with adequate financial resources, it does not take long to be familiarized with the environment, and once that happens, everything just clicks.”
Ankur, originally from Bangladesh, graduated with a Computer Science degree from the University of Windsor in 2005. After starting his degree at North South University in Dhaka, Ankur then transferred his credits to Windsor. Although he says coming to Canada was a big change from his life in Bangladesh, it was definitely the right decision.
“When I first arrived, I literally saw my life change in front of me. I was no longer living under the shelter of my parents. I was totally responsible for looking after what I ate or where I lived. I was completely in charge of my actions. The changes were just pouring in. When I look back at it though, I can safely say that in my case, they were all good changes.”
“At first I was tense and a bit worried having to face life by myself for the first time. However, I adapted extremely fast. The transition was smooth and easy for me, thanks to some good people I met. Friends who were already living there helped me settle in. The staff at the International Students Centre helped make my academic transition as smooth as possible. The ISC was like the one-stop place where international students could go to with any queries.”
Modern libraries, computer labs, airy lounges Canadian campuses are filled with lots of great
places for students to concentrate on independent study. [Pictured: Saint Mary's University]
Like other Canadian university, the University of Windsor offers a comprehensive international student support system in Windsor's case, provided through the on-campus International Student Centre. With specialised student advisors, academic support, and help regarding visas and/or study permits, such support systems can make a big difference for new international students particularly in the first couple of weeks, when students often take part in special orientation programmes to help them settle in.
What makes Canada so special?
“Near the end of my teen years, I developed strong beliefs in freedom and equality,” says Ankur. “I believe that an honest and hard working person should be able to realise his/her dreams or, at the very least, lead a decent, secure and healthy life. These values, compounded with the need and desire for a quality education in science and technology, are the reasons why North America is where I always wanted to be. I chose Canada because of its reputation as a friendly nation and a beautiful country and I am proud to say I made the right choice.”
Such a reputation is certainly a strong point in Canada's favour with political stability, a strong economy with growing job opportunities for skilled and educated workers, multicultural values which welcome international newcomers and friendly attitude, it is a country perfect for students and young professionals alike. And, as is the case for other cities across the nation both big and small Ankur found Windsor to be “warm and welcoming”, right from day one.
“I found Windsor to be a pretty little city by a river with lots of students like myself, going through the same transitional experiences that I was. The campus was everything that I had expected big enough to be able to spread out but not so big or scattered that you feel lost.”
As Ankur soon found out, campus life at Canadian universities also help the new ones to fit right in. With a lot of focus on student involvement, student-led clubs and organisations give students a chance to meet others with similar interests and/or backgrounds from drama productions to student politics, hobbies such as chess or outdoor hiking, ethnic groups to religious gatherings. Such clubs offer newcomers an immediate way to get involved and meet others.
Additionally, Canadian universities also offer a great deal of opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience, both on and off campus. Through co-op education programs, internships, and part-time jobs, international students can not only earn while they learn, they can also build up important references for future employment applications. Ankur, for example, worked a number of different on-campus positions, starting from his second year at Windsor.
“I worked at the International Students Centre as a Peer Counselor from my second year till when I graduated. I loved that job and truly enjoyed working there. I worked as a lab coordinator and later as the programme coordinator for an English Language Improvement Programme on campus. I also worked as a Graduate Assistant for a number of courses at the school of Computer Science. These roles and positions taught me discipline, work ethics, the importance of meeting deadlines, and enhanced my communication skills as well as my sense of responsibility. They significantly helped in preparing me for life in the real world after university.”
Having enjoyed his time as a student in Canada so much, Ankur decided to stay in the country after completing his graduation to look for employment. And even though he had a few difficulties starting out, he is now extremely happy with his decision.
“After graduating from Windsor, it was a bit of a struggle at first to find employment in my field,” Ankur explains. “However, in less than a year, I landed at a job in a company that develops and researches software development, right here in Windsor. Since joining the company, I have held a number of different positions there and I am currently employed as a Software Developer for the team that researches and develops new products.”
“I've also become a Canadian citizen, and I am staying in Canada. It's been almost a decade since I came here as a student. There have been ups and downs, but it's all part of life. Overall, life here has been good to me and this place has become a big part of who I am today. This country turned out to be everything that I expected when I first came here. If you're willing to work hard here, you can make a difference in your life as well as the lives of others. Life here is simple and it truly is a beautiful country. I've driven cross-province in the summers and enjoyed every minute of it. It's either Bangladesh or Canada I wouldn't want to stay anywhere else permanently.”
A piece of advice…
For those students considering starting their own university experiences in Canada, Ankur offers the following suggestions on how to get the most out of the opportunities at hand: “Be prepared to be active,” he says. “Try to get involved with on-campus groups and positions, take initiative, be driven and work hard. This may sound like standard advice, but it is actually very important. The university can only take you so far. Real life after university is much different, and you have to be actively prepared for it.”
Most first-year students at Canadian universities choose to live in on-campus housing, which are renowned for their safety, comfort, and community spirit. [Pictured: University of Windsor]
Asking the right questions to make the right decision
Still have concerns over whether Canadian universities or which institutions in particular are right for you? Kim Moore, Director of Windsor's International Student Centre, offers some tips for potential students and parents considering a degree in Canada.
The first thing to do, she says, is to be sure to have it clearly explained whether or not the student applicants are in fact admissible to the degree programme(s) of their choice.
“Are there any conditions to this admission?” Kim says, is one of the first questions that parents and students should be asking university representatives before they set their sights on any specific programmes. “For example, do they need to successfully complete ELIP before beginning degree studies? Or complete any university prerequisites, such as the University of Windsor's “Essentials of University Mathematics” course? If not directly admissible (with or without condition), what does the student have to achieve to get into his/her chosen programme? For example, if the applicant is not directly admissible to Engineering and is admitted to Science instead, how realistic is it that he/she will be able to pick up any missing prerequisite courses and transfer to Engineering later on? And if it is realistic, how many semesters of studies in Science will be needed?” And so on.
According to Kim, these are some of the first questions potential candidates need to be asking. Other areas of enquiry, which she suggests should also be considered, include determining specific tuition fees finding out how they differ between various institutions, programmes, and what types of incidental fees (such as health care, public transport, etc) are included in them? Also, whether or not there are any scholarship opportunities available.
Support services available for international students, and campus/city safety are other areas she suggests to look into as either of these issues can make a big difference in students' experiences once overseas.
However, luckily for any student interested in applying to a Canadian school, the Canadian University Application Centre is there to help answer these questions!
Find out more
To learn more about attending a Canadian university, you can visit the Canadian University Application Centre (or 'CUAC') website, at www.canada123.org or, for personal counseling and answers to help out your Canadian university decision, you can also drop by the Dhaka-based CUAC office, located on Gulshan Road.
Additionally, CUAC staff will be present on Friday, November 5, along with various university representatives from campuses across Canada, at The Westin Dhaka from 12 noon to 8pm ready to answer all your questions with typical Canadian helpfulness.
WHEN: Friday, 5th November - 12 noon to 8 pm
WHERE: The Westin Dhaka, Ballroom 3, Gulshan 2, Dhaka
We look forward to meeting you soon!