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Around the Word: A survival guide for international students

By Tausif Tajwar, September 20 2021—

Imagine leaving a country where you have spent your whole life and are now leaving it behind alongside your family, your friends, your language and your culture. Leaving behind everything that made you who you are today is in itself a formidable enterprise. Considering the huge tally of tasks that need to be completed by every international student in their first few weeks here in Canada, it often feels like a jump from the frying pan straight into the fire. To ease the transition into their new lives, I have come up with a checklist for every international student coming here to study at the University of Calgary.

Obtaining Necessary Identification:

The Unicard is your most important identification on campus and can be used to book study spaces on campus, printing/photocopying on campus, meal plans, and so much more. We recommend that you submit your photo online through the website and collect it at the Campus Service Centre when notified. Alongside this, you will also need a Canadian phone number, including proof of residence in Alberta for obtaining required government identifications such as an Alberta ID, and a Social Insurance Number (SIN). Both are required to get yourself identified in this province and for landing a job. Alberta Health Cards act as your health insurance here, and the most basic plan will not cost you any money.

Navigating Calgary’s Transportation: 

We can safely assume that you do not come having memorized all the streets and the C-Train and bus routes in Calgary. The Calgary Transit mobile app will be your best friend throughout your degree and will guide you to all your destinations including navigating around such a gigantic campus. In previous years, students would be able to use their Unicard as a transit pass on public transportation, however, this year the University of Calgary is shifting to an online Transit Pass. You will need to download the MyFare Calgary Transit app on your phone and enter your campus credentials to obtain your pass. The tickets will automatically appear on your app if you are a registered full-time student.

Transferring your Finances:


Considering you have finished your quarantine and are now free to go out, you would first want to open a student account in a bank and get your debit and credit card. If you come from your home country with cash in hand, these banks will help convert all your currency and safely deposit it into your account. Even if you brought an international credit card with you, it is still highly advised that you get a credit card from a bank here to build your credit score in Canada, should you choose to build upon your career here. Some of the most common banks chosen by international students studying at U of C are RBC, CIBC, Scotiabank and TD. RBC, in particular, is located in Mac Hall and is the most accessible to students. You can open your student account for free in all of these banks with zero service charge for your debit and credit cards. You will be required to show your passport, student permit and sometimes your proof of residence to open an account.

Academic, Community, and Career Supports:

Many international students feel a little shocked when making the transition to Canadian academics, whether it be due to the professor’s style of teaching, speaking English as a second language or just acclimating to the subtle linguistic and literary differences used at the University of Calgary. If you want to sharpen your proficiency in English, we advise getting into the Writing Support Program offered by Career Services or contact the Writing Centre at the Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL). There is also a PASS Program in place on campus which offers one on one tutoring for students who might have difficulties following the lectures of their professors. For more information and resources, you can contact U of C’s International Student Service Centre.

Living Accommodations:

U of C has several residence buildings, and a lot of international students prefer them over the cheaper off-campus options situated close to main campus faculty buildings that provide an immersive dorm experience to residents. You can know more about specific deadlines, room rates and meal plans on the Residence Services website. You can navigate through sites like the Students’ Union Off-Campus Housing List or even a Facebook group to search for roommates and ideal living spaces off-campus.

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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