Guest post: Holly & Summer Read
Leaving your home to study abroad – for a semester or longer – can be very daunting. New routines, classes, teachers, places and friends… It can be quite overwhelming. When my sister and I were accepted into an exchange program to study in Canada, we had no idea what to expect. We were so nervous at the beginning, we broke down several times in the airplane. Little did we know that we had nothing to fear, and that taking part in an exchange trip to study abroad in Canada would be one of the best and most rewarding experiences in our lives so far.
We’ve put together a list of our top six things you should consider before studying abroad in Canada, which we hope will not only convince you to take part, but also give you a little ‘head’s up’ for what’s to come. There will no doubt be a couple of unexpected surprises on the way; hopefully this list will help you prepare for your trip!
1. Get ready for culture shock (in a good way).
One of the things that marked us the most during our 4 ½ month trip was the culture shock. It was our first time in Canada, and we weren’t prepared for the stark difference between the different cultures. We should also mention that we were blown away by how welcoming Canadians were towards us. You will no doubt see this yourself if you decide to study in Canada, we just felt that it would be shameful not to mention their kindness in this article.
We weren’t only taken aback by Canadian culture in general, but also by “student culture” – life at a Canadian university. One of the things that still surprises me (in a lovely way) today is the relationship between the students and the university itself. There is a very strong sense of camaraderie. The majority of students would show their support for the institution by wearing clothes sporting the university logo. I found this quite strange at the beginning, yet as the semester went on, I found myself also proudly wearing the university logo. Not only did it give me a sense of belonging, but it also pushed me to work harder, to succeed.
2. Don’t be deterred by homesickness.
At some point during your trip you will probably feel overwhelmed; you will miss your home and your family. Of course, this is different for everyone. Some people may not get homesick at all. You can try to prepare yourself as best you can for this; of course the most important thing to remember is that you will not be completely cut off from your home! There are so many ways to keep in touch with your loved ones.
The best thing to do upon your arrival in Canada is to take part in all activities offered during International Orientation Week. You’ll meet so many new people who are in the same boat as you, who may also be experiencing the same feelings as you! Another thing to consider before you leave is setting up Skype for your family members, if they don’t have it already, so you can easily keep in touch.
3. Get your finances in order.
Before you leave for your trip, it’s vital that you organize yourself finance-wise. Always remember to keep a little extra aside, not only for unexpected surprises, but also for travelling. We didn’t expect to have to pay so much towards course packs (some are required and necessary for your courses). We ended up paying about CA$200 altogether for about nine books (some students have to buy many more). Luckily for us, being twins and taking the same courses, we were able to split the price. But for others this could count as an unexpected additional cost, so it’s important to plan for this as best you can.
You should also know that many Canadian universities will charge you a fee for health and dental insurance (even if you’ve purchased this at home), and items such as a bus pass. Before you arrive, try to contact the person in charge of international relations and ask for a full list of fees; this will not only help settle your worries, but could also help avoid any unpleasant surprises. Remember to consider the exchange rate too!
4. Learn about the Canadian university system.
One of the best things about our trip was experiencing the different education system. For one thing, we found the relationship between students and teachers was extremely different (in the best possible way!). We weren’t quite prepared for the differences between our two universities on the work front, though. We quickly discovered that our Canadian university worked very differently to our home one where coursework was concerned. We had fewer classes, but more homework and papers to give in. Yet, the grading system worked to our advantage; never before had we received such good grades. It’s important to take into account that your host university will work differently to your own, and you will have to find a new work routine, and understand that your Canadian university may have different expectations of you.
5. Pack plenty of warm clothes.
Now this may appear obvious, but if you’re planning to study in Canada, you must inform yourself on the weather situation beforehand! We knew it would be cold, and everyone kept telling us it would be cold, and that it would get even colder, but we still weren’t prepared. We had never experienced a harsh Canadian winter before (and luckily for us, it was the hottest winter Canada had known in decades). Before you know it, you’ll be wearing tights under your jeans and multiple pairs of socks.
In all seriousness, you should know that you will have to purchase proper winter boots and coats during your stay (which may cost you a fair bit); it’s unavoidable. You should look at the average temperatures before leaving. I wouldn’t recommend buying anything before you get there if you’re travelling during fall semester – but if you’re arriving in January, you should have a coat and boots ready to wear as soon as you exit the airport.
6. Plan some trips.
Many international students will go travelling during ‘reading week’ (a week off in the middle of the semester), so it’s a good idea to take a close look at your location and consider the travelling possibilities. Do some research, look at reviews, articles, events, as much as you can! You’re not only there to study – you’re there to experience life in a new way, so make the most of it. In a country as big and as beautiful as Canada, there are so many possibilities; try to plan wisely. Depending on your location, you may even be able to travel to the US. Just make sure you do your research, including looking into any visas or permits you need to apply for.
The best advice we can give you is to plan ahead, and try to organize yourself as best you can. This will help you avoid any unexpected surprises and let your trip flow more smoothly. Last of all, don’t hesitate to ask questions, and enjoy yourself!
21-year-old bilingual twins Holly and Summer Read run an online fashion/lifestyle blog named The Twins’ Wardrobe. Recent performing arts graduates, they are currently based in France, and are very passionate about books, cinema, photography and fashion.