A Different Perspective on the International Experience

As a senior at Grosse Pointe South High School, with supportive parents and solid grades, I was overwhelmed by the array of college and university options at my disposal. College trips and information sessions not only seemed to blur, but they left me yearning for an experience somehow more diverse, cosmopolitan, and global. After making the difficult decision to attend the University of Toronto, I knew I had made the right choice for my education and my future. However I wasn’t fully aware of the complications I was going to face down the road. Everything from health insurance to finalizing my study visa to registering for classes was quite the process. Of course I was mentally prepared to overcome the typical adversity any university student could expect, but some of the issues I was faced with were quite unexpected.  Despite the difficulties, I was able to take the experiences of my first year and learn from them. While some of the lessons were quite straightforward (i.e. my health coverage only works in certain places, loan money is disbursed at different times for American students, and I need my student ID to stay in the library after hours) some lessons were much more difficult to learn. I found it easy to adapt to the environment to do the best I could to live efficiently, be healthy and focus on my grades. However it took a much longer time to gain real fulfillment from my experience.

Now that my first year as an international student is over, the lessons I’ve learned make me much more confident and excited for my second year. A really important thing I’ve learned is to expand your network, not only with connections to possible employers or professionals in your area of study, but friends, even if you can’t seem to find anyone from your country! Domestic and international students can learn a lot from each other. You may not be able to talk about your financial aid struggles or language confusion, but you can learn about other cultures or even develop new interests.

It is definitely true that approaching strangers isn’t something this generation necessarily loves doing. However, online resources make it easy to find events and meet people with similar interests. Joining university facebook groups, using meetup.com, or even checking out events from posters hanging in the library or dorm hallways are all great ways to meet people in a more relaxed setting. On that note I also think being involved is really helpful. Whether you help organize events within your program of study, play an intramural sport, join an extracurricular club, or even get involved in off-campus activities; this kind of involvement can really help you not feel so alone as an international student. Getting out of your shell isn’t easy, especially as an outlier. But, from experience I can affirm it makes a world of difference for your experience.

With that being said, there are things you have to overcome alone. I’ve learned there’s a lot more responsibility that comes with being an International student. Even though my university and the large majority of colleges and universities with international students have resources, you have to be the one to reach out to those resources. Your friends and family can’t be there to help you speak to a financial aid officer, sign up for health insurance, or request a work visa. So using things like reminders and calendar apps can be really helpful to stay on top of handling all these appointments.

As my first year came to an end, I noticed a few common themes that really contributed to all my large and small successes: focus; confidence; and a willingness to take risks. I believe if any university student (international or not) remembers these things throughout their university career, they’ll have a more fulfilling road to success.