Former U of O newcomers share tips for adjusting to the nation’s capital
“Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are”
The biggest advice I can give anyone new to Canada would be that as an international student you’re leaving you’re friends, you’re leaving a lot of things you’re used to… it’s very, very difficult. I’m Nigerian, and I was coming from my country where we’re all black, and I never really understood what it meant to actually be visibly different from people. I mean, Canada is very diverse, but I came here and I became one of the minorities. I’d never really felt that way before in my life. And being the minority, you know, walking on the street when it’s very obvious that you’re a minority can be very scary.
But what I would tell anyone coming here is they shouldn’t let that stop them from doing stuff. When I get to tell any of the international students what I’m doing right now, I’m working with the government, they say, “how is that possible? I always heard that international students couldn’t work in the government.” I heard that too, but the thing is, I applied. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it or not, but I thought I’d try.
My mom used to say “show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are.” I found that being in a new country, that advice actually helped me a lot. I found that going to the Women’s Startup Network (WSN) here at the U of O changed my life. I’m an engineer, and growing up I always felt different. When I went to WSN, I found my tribe—girls from different countries, different races… it didn’t matter, there was a connection. Finding your tribe is very important—meeting the kind of people you’re comfortable with, and finding the people that push you.
School is not just about the classes, but the things that happen around school. Here in grad school, it’s given me a second chance not to just go through school, but let school go through me.
Kiss your comfort zone good-bye
Moving to a new city for undergrad is an overwhelming experience, and more so for international students coming to a new country, new city and, for many, a new way of life. My experience here has been positive, not only in terms of education and work-experience but also in terms of relationships and friendships built through school, work, and social activities.
I would strongly suggest that incoming students make use of the resources available to them, explore classes not strictly in their programs, and take full advantage of the CO-OP program to integrate into the Canadian workforce. But most of all, break free of your comfort zone and participate in extra-curricular activities both in school and in the community. Give this new city a chance. International students will face some unique hardships and struggles, but remember that all of your peers are also struggling through college. I have, and still am. Success and happiness is entirely up to your mind-set and the effort you put in. I am an international student, but Ottawa is home.
Don’t forget the importance of your social well-being
It’s been almost ten years since I came here, and one of the main reasons I came here was education. Through high school and university I learned how to socialize with other people, and I think that’s one of the biggest take-aways of education. And in post-secondary I got to use that skill set.
There are a lot of great events, and I think it’s good for incoming students to go to some of those events and participate. Lansdowne has a lot of cultural festivals, they should enjoy the city. A university education is important, getting good grades is important, but first thing’s first, how do you fit into a society? I think learning a notion of compassion from people around you, I think in the end that’s going to help a ton.