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Around the World: How to be an international student, in 10 steps

By Nandini Agarwal, January 4 2021—

International Students are a core part of the University of Calgary campus. We add flavors from around the world, from Zimbabwe to India, Dubai to England, Italy to Vietnam and so many more countries. So, one day I thought, “Do the domestic students know what it takes to be an International Student?” and that is how these 10 mostly-tongue-in-cheek steps took shape.

Step 1: Arriving in Calgary. 

This is not the most crucial part of being an International Student, as the pandemic has taught us, but we’ll ignore that for the time being. The rush to collect your luggage, get an Uber and reach residence in time to get the keys is a marathon by itself. I guess that’s why the university suggests coming a day in advance and staying in a hotel so that students don’t panic when getting from the airport to residence before the residence office closes. 

Step 2: Explaining where you’re from.

“No, but like where are you FROM?” is a frequent question you’ll answer all the time as an international student. Dear domestic students and professors: If you are reading this, please don’t be like Karen from Mean Girls and ask us why we look a particular way if we are from a particular region. We would love to explain our culture, our beliefs and our values, however, please don’t persistently ask where we are from and act shocked if the answer doesn’t meet your stereotypical expectations.

Step 3: Shopping for winter clothes for Calgary winters.

I find it hard to believe that anyone from much hotter regions like the Middle East is ready for a -40 degree Celsius winter when they move to Calgary. You’ll find most international students going shopping for a Canada Goose jacket or some other alternatives that will help us survive the treacherous temperatures. In South Asian countries like India, 10 degrees Celsius is a bright winter morning, but in Calgary, it’s the welcoming weather for summer. 

Photo by ShangNong Hu.

Step 4: Asking your parents to transfer more money.

A hundred dollars for one book? Personally, I was not prepared for the textbook prices, and also the currency conversion. Mental math equations take place while shopping for those winter clothes what is 10 Canadian Dollars in Bangladeshi Taka? Better ask the ‘rents for more money or find a job on campus that meets international student visa regulation requirements. 

Step 5: Getting an Alberta ID and other documents.

“Hey! Wanna go to Thursden later on?” is a constantly asked question in first-year. But wait! A huge roadblock to international students being able to join in on the fun is not having appropriate ID. You’ll have to take your passport for the time being but it’s much easier to get Alberta identification. It also would have been easier to just not go to Thursden, get drunk for the first time, fracture my fingers and come up with a story for my parents about how it happened…

Step 6: Finding out about free healthcare

Wait, so I can get my blood work done, and get medical assistance for free? Excluding the medical and dental insurance international students pay in our fees, free healthcare is the best part about studying in Canada. Heck, yeah! All countries should have this instead of charging a hundred dollars for blood work. 

Step 7: Talking to the family

“Yes, mom? Yes, I know you are having lunch, but it’s 3 a.m. here.” 

You’ll get those dreaded calls in the middle of the night that disturb your beauty sleep because your family forgets about the time difference. But, you’ll also find yourself staying up late at night sometimes to catch up with family and friends across the globe about the latest tea and everything that you’ve missed because of being away from home for too long. 

Photo by Hesam Rezaei.

Step 8: Moving out

As soon as the residence rooms start feeling even a little normal, we have to pack up our belongings, place the majority of them in a rented locker AND pack our suitcases for long flights back home that are absolutely worth it when we see our families. I think I have more stamps on my passport from travelling to/from Calgary to/from home than I do good grades on my transcript. 

Step 9: Jet lag 

Attending classes a few days after being on a flight for 14 or more hours is a task by itself. For the professors, it might be 10 a.m., but mentally, it’s 10 p.m. for us. There should be an assignment extension policy for students who have just travelled across the globe because I don’t think professors understand how tough time adjustments can truly be. 

Step 10: Second Home

Despite going through so many changes in our lifestyles and the challenges it introduces to us, international students can really call Calgary their second home. We have found friends that are like family and form bonds that don’t stop at borders. 

By the way, do you pronounce it Cal “GARY” or Cal “GREE”?

Around the World is a column about the international student experience and a platform for the voices of those students to be heard. It aims to raise topics often avoided and issues often unspoken about as they pertain to international students at the University of CalgaryThis column is a part of our Voices section.

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