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A warm welcome to international students

August 30, 2021
By Ezgi Ozyonum

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Bienvenue! Finally, you made it and now you are in Canada. But let’s first acknowledge what you have gone through this past year.

Our lives have all been impacted dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, and international students faced particular challenges. Take Qiang, for example, an international graduate student from China. Although COVID-19 prevented her from entering Canada, she was determined to start her program. She woke up at 4 a.m. daily to attend her online classes. She paid four times more tuition fees than her domestic peers to a university that she has never even seen. She was ineligible to apply for bursaries to lessen her financial burden. She intended to build a network during her studies but it has been difficult to make friends in an online learning environment.

Another example is Amir, who was in the dining room of his student residence when he heard the news about COVID-19. There were rumours that his dorm would be shut down. When his home country announced it would be soon banning incoming flights, he packed and left in one day. He had no family in Canada. He thought it would be better to be stuck at home than to be alone in the dorm. Like other students, he experienced emotional and financial distress during the pandemic. He did not have access to mental health services at his university because these are restricted to those living in Canada.

Canadian universities and colleges have announced reopening campuses for this semester. Some have already started offering on-campus orientation. If Amir or Qiang’s situation is familiar to you, like other international students, you are urged to come after an extra-difficult time. Therefore, I want to dedicate this blog post to you. As an old-time international student in Montreal, here are some tips on how to thrive and survive here.

Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

Explore and Engage

I moved to Canada four years ago for my doctoral studies and I fell in love with the beauty of Montreal. Each neighbourhood here has its own culture and characteristics. Explore as much as you can, walk along the Lachine canal near Atwater, grab an ice cream in the Old Port and do not forget to try poutine. Of course, you are here to study but you can spice up your work day by going to a café and trying the combo of cream cheese bagel and coffee.

Another essential thing to consider is to find a place to stay. You do not have to rent an apartment near the university campus. I recommend you try a different neighbourhood than downtown such as the Plateau, Côte-des-Neiges, or Notre-Dame-des-Grâce (NDG). This way, you may also find more opportunities to engage in the life of the community.

Get out of your comfort zone

One of my great colleagues, Racha, once told me that learning starts when you are out of your comfort zone. Contact the international student office (ISO) and learn about a variety of student services available at your university. Orientation is also a great time to meet others and to learn about student services. Take initiatives and do not hesitate to reach out to others. In the classroom, engage and learn from your instructor and peers. Do not hesitate to share your needs. Communication is key in any learning space.

If resources and services in your university do not work well or are not enough to support you, I encourage you to find ways to communicate your experience and try to be more involved. Do not only critique the institution but take ownership to make it better. Institutions like individuals are not perfect and always have room to learn and improve.

Photo by Miguel Bruna from Unsplash

Voice up

At an academic conference, a graduate student from India stood up and said, “I did not know that I had colour before I moved here.” There are a wide range of conversations about identity related to our race, gender and ethnicity which are rooted in very complex structures of the world system. My advice to you is, do not let anyone identify who you are and be courageous when you navigate these conversations. Undoubtedly, the spaces you are in will be enriched by the diverse perspectives you can provide.

Raise your voice and share your knowledge and perspective while also being open to learn and broaden your vision. Teach us other ways of knowing. This engagement is essential.

Learn the history of the land

Last but not least, respect the place you are moving to. Your university is located on unceded Indigenous land. It is important to acknowledge custodians of the land and water. The land where you are getting your education from is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other people. I recommend you read this this letter to prospective immigrants to deepen your understanding.

I hope you will have a great experience during your studies here. If you need help, I am here for you, like many others. Welcome once again, a big virtual (COVID-friendly) hug to you!

About the author

Photo of Ezgi Ozyonum

Ezgi Ozyonum is a PhD candidate in Education. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Bilkent University and completed her master’s degree at Middle East Technical University. Ezgi has taught at the department of Education, Concordia University, and has delivered workshops for Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning and GradProSkills.

Her research brings critical and decolonial perspectives to the study and practice of internationalization and decolonization in higher education. Through her work, she seeks to interrupt common colonial patterns of education engagement. She presented her research at many national and international academic conferences including Comparative & International Education Society (CIES), American Educational Research Association (AERA), and Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE). Her research findings could move Canadian Universities towards a more equitable and inclusive future.

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