By Sebastian Vasquez Gutierrez, January 21 2022—
When you start to study abroad, it doesn’t take too long to realize that not only has your lifestyle changed but so has your personality — even if you don’t notice it at first. When I first came to Calgary, I felt like I had to change a lot about myself like how I expressed my thoughts.
As an international student, I find it is very difficult to voice my ideas, and most of the things I say get lost in translation. I often end up wanting to say more, but due to language differences, I end up stuck because I am thinking in my first language but trying to speak in English.
Many international students often feel as though they are leaving a piece of themselves behind at home and struggle with showing the full extent of their personalities — often because of a fear of being judged or that it is hard to express yourself to your fullest extent in English.
In Colombia, I talked very passionately and loud, but in Canada, I was asked to “tone down” a little bit of myself to be able to fit in and not be seen as rude or aggressive. The first month I was here, it was tough to express myself since I was used to speaking Spanish, which has different mannerisms than English.
I talked very loudly back home, and a lot of the slang I used is considered a little aggressive to Canadians, so I was often asked to lower my voice and tone down my vocabulary. On one occasion, a person I was speaking to told me to stop being rude. I had no intention of being rude.
Instead, the culture with which I grew up is very different through the way we communicate and our body movements — we use our hands a lot when we talk. It can be seen as a provocation to the person on the other end of the conversation.
In my first semester — while I was adjusting — I felt lost. What is worse is that I felt like I needed to change to adapt more to Canadian culture, but still did not fully know how to act.
When I talked to my friends back home, they kept telling me how I changed and how different I was acting towards them. So I was in a situation of struggling to fit into Canadian society while also risking losing my connection to Colombia.
You will lose track of your culture since you are away from everything, especially really meaningful traditions and celebrations. In my case, I really miss festivities like Dia De las Velitas — translated to “Day of Little Candles” — which is a tradition where families and friends gather and light up candles outside.
It has religious origins, but you can celebrate it without any religious background. I have always observed this tradition among loved ones but, unfortunately, I could not fully celebrate it in Canada since it was really cold and the candles wouldn’t stay lit for long — along with the feeling of not fitting in.
I felt alone, having no one to celebrate those traditions that have always been important to my family.
However, something that will always bring a smile to my face is eating traditional food. One common recipe is for buñuelos. I attempted the recipe on the day of the tradition, and it helped me a lot with the loneliness I was feeling at the time. It reminded me about the times I celebrated those traditions with my family and that no matter how far away from my hometown I am, I could always have a piece of home with me no matter where I go.
With time, you will get used to the culture here but it’s important to keep traditions alive so that connection doesn’t get lost. You are in a balance between two ways of life — it is a very difficult adjustment, and each person takes a different route. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or on the outs at the beginning. However, you will learn and find people that make you feel at home with time.
This article is a part of our Voices section.