Studying abroad takes courage. It requires leaving your comfort zone, heading to a country away from the people you know best, and diving into an unfamiliar way of living.
Embracing a new life in Canada can lead to many amazing opportunities, friendships, and memories, but it isn’t always an easy adjustment. There may be lonely moments especially if it’s your first time living away from family.
Here are some common challenges international students may struggle with, and practical solutions to help you thrive.
Feeling Overwhelmed? Ask for Help
Whether money worries are adding to feelings of stress, your workload feels like it’s too much, or you’re just feeling a little down, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are health services available from your school’s Office of Student Life or Student Services at universities and colleges across Canada. In fact, according to a 2017 study, universities and colleges across the country have increased their mental health budgets in recent years to help students get access to the help they need.
And that myth that asking for help could result in a mark on your transcript. It’s just that: a myth.
Check out RBC’s Be There guide for a list of great mental health resources based on region. Seeking help? That’s never a sign of weakness.
Looking for Friends? Try Joining a Club
Colleges and universities host some of the most eclectic clubs anywhere.
If you’ve never tried salsa dancing at home, but you’ve always been curious, there’s likely a club on campus you can join. Or maybe you just want to hang out with like-minded people and debate global politics? There’s a good chance there’s a campus group for that too. Try a college club and see how you enjoy it.
Tip: If you’re missing your home culture, there may well be a cultural association in your new community that you can join. Check out the Canadian Immigration website for details on what’s available in your area.
Getting burnt-out? Consider your Work/Life Balance
Financial stress can add to feeling burnt-out, but it's okay to ask for advice.
If you’re also juggling part-time work to make ends meet, it can be difficult to find time for yourself. Your bank or college will have advisers you can talk to for help, and you can also use apps to help manage your money and other financial wellness guides.
Stuck in Front of a Screen? Try an Offline Hobby
Now that many lectures and seminars have moved online, you’re probably spending a lot of time on your laptop. If your hobbies are also online (gaming, social media, watching videos), it may help your mood to find offline interests. Wherever you are in Canada, it’s easy to find trails for walking, biking, and even snowshoeing. Don’t enjoy cold weather? Pick-up some yeast and flour from the store and ask your dorm mates if they’d like to have a bread (or pizza!) making party. Want a taste of home? Ask your family for the recipe for a favourite dish that you can share with others.
Feeling Stressed? Try Relaxation Exercises
Pulling an occasional “all-nighter” study session here and there is pretty much inevitable if you’re taking a demanding course. But what if you get less sleep because your family insists on Skyping you regularly at 2 a.m.? Or you’re too tense to relax after classes?
It’s to your benefit to try and get a full night’s sleep as often as you can. Consider going to bed earlier than you usually do. Or you may need to set some boundaries with your family or pals back home. If they don’t believe you, maybe just tell them one study found that “Increasing sleep by one hour was associated with an increase of 11% on the course grade.”1
Stress can be a part of every student’s life, and anxiety may affect your body as well as your mind. Tools like breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques may make coping with your stress easier. Take a look at these resources from the youth mental health charity Jack.org and RBC.
Feeling Homesick? Get to Know Where You Are
It’s hard to feel like part of a community if you don’t know much about it. If you’ve moved to a new place, it can bring up feelings of isolation, loneliness and homesickness. But geographical knowledge — getting to know your new town — can help you feel more like part of a community.
Chances are you’re not the only one who feels this way. Reach out to your dorm mates or friendly classmates. Ask them if they want to walk with you to the nearest park. Rent bikes and check out the town some sunny Sunday. Do whatever it takes to create a physical roadmap of memories to help you start to feel at home.
International students are courageous by nature, but even coming to a country as welcoming as Canada may bring on feelings of loneliness, anxiety or exhaustion. Find ways to take care of yourself while you’re studying abroad, and remember that having the courage to ask for help is a great way to help you stay mentally fit.
1 Zeek, Megan L et al. “Sleep Duration and Academic Performance Among Student Pharmacists.” American journal of pharmaceutical education vol. 79,5 (2015): 63.
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