Life as an international student

As an international student, I wish the transition was easier, but I am very much appreciative of the opportunity to grow and actualize my dreams in a country I will soon call home.

File Photo by Moyo Arewa
File Photo by Moyo Arewa

They may look distinct, sound dissimilar, appear taciturn and socially hesitant, but if you strike these from the equation, international students are no different from domestic students.

They are heavily sought by more economically developed countries primarily because of their diversity and the economic benefits that come with that.

Policies have been drafted just for them while programs are being made and universities are going above and beyond to ensure they attract and capture the best of them.

As glamourous as it might sound to be regarded as an international student, there are some significant and overwhelming struggles these students face. Some would dare to describe the life of an international student as analogous to a person at a beginner level swimming class being tossed into the ocean and asked to find their way.

These hardships are very palpable, and a social, cultural and academic examination of the life of these students would go a long way in making life easier on them.

First of all, if you ask any student about their best university memories, the likely answer will include a few sentimental sentences about the vital friendships they’ve made. A 2013 survey conducted by the Canadian Bureau of International Education showed 58 per cent of international students reported having few to no Canadian friends.

This statistic does a poor job of capturing how depressing it is to set out alone to a country, without having people with whom you can share your experiences.

International students don’t always have the luxury of going home, and the only time they get to see family is through a virtual experience on the Internet.

Secondly, the language barrier is another problem faced by international students, and because of this they cannot interact freely with domestic students.

Most international students, in Canada particularly, come from a country in which English is not their mother tongue.

The consistent application of a language you study in the classroom as a subject is now your main survival tool. Can you imagine that? This is where the difficulty arises.

Elocution — or the lack, thereof — breeds insecurity and fear into the hearts of these students. Thus, they limit their interaction with the domestic populace and stick to other international students or just proceed as a loner.

Often times, they will ask you to repeat what you say, look confused when certain jokes are made and spend a long time thinking before they offer an answer. The emotional toll snowballs with each passing day and this is what they are forced to endure.

Thirdly, there is the problem of academic disparity. Some friends here have told me the educational system in Canada places great emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and to a great extent application.

In comparison, the emphasis back home might have been on passing examinations or memorizing and regurgitating content. As a result of this, international students have struggled to modify their learning style.

There is so much money invested in these students that one bad grade sends them spiraling into an abyss of depression. Paying approximately four times the domestic tuition can do that to a student. It is understandable though — their families back home really want them to do well, as they are the symbolism of hope, a better life and change. However, the stress does become unbearable which therefore encourages these students to seek ways of coping.

Interestingly, the Canadian government indicated that international students contributed $8 billion to the country’s economy. Australia had a much more impressive figure — $18 billion to be precise.

This greatly explains the reason foreign students are so heavily sought.

Finally, the culture shock stares each international student down upon entry. Many things in their adopted home is unfamiliar and even a four-year-old child knows more than the student at that point. Ordinary things have to be learned. Simple things such as going grocery shopping, taking the bus, paying bills and buying winter coats are just a few of these struggles.

Nevertheless, there are positives. The international student who is an optimist views each day as an adventure, eagerly learns what they need to, and embraces the challenges as they come. They operate freely and try not to allow themselves to feel pressured. They typically harbour a strong desire to be fully integrated in the society.

As an international student, I wish the transition was easier, but I am very much appreciative of the opportunity to grow and actualize my dreams in a country I will soon call home.



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