Overcoming Challenges as an International Student in Canada
Success is based on more than just good grades
In my immigration practice, many of my clients are international students. On top of the pressures of academic studies, tuition costs, and adjusting to a new culture and education system, they often face unique immigration challenges as well.
Being informed on immigration rules and regulations prior to and during your studies will help you immensely throughout your education and immigration journey in Canada. This article reviews a recent example of an international student who, although he failed one term, successfully completed his studies and obtained permanent residence status. In addition, it provides advice on how to successfully complete your studies as an international student in Canada.
Four years ago, I found myself in Amritsar, India, sitting across from a prospective student intent on studying in Canada. During my three-week recruitment mission in India, I had met thousands of students interested in learning more about academic programs and opportunities in Canada; however, this particular student stood out. He told me he was a rapper and began to rap at my booth and it was obvious he had excellent English language skills, a necessity for gaining admission to a Canadian College or University.
He recently reached out and told me that during his most difficult time in Canada, the words I said to him four years earlier had got him through those tough times. At my booth, in Amritsar, he had asked me, “what is it really like in Canada?” I had replied: “Canada is a great country, but you’ll have ups and downs. Remember, you’ll go through culture shock, living in a new country, new relationships, and a new school. So many changes at one time can often be overwhelming, but this is a normal thing to feel. You will be without family, and although you’ll meet good people and make new friendships, sometimes you’ll still miss home. There will be people to help you and resources and support from your school to get you through. But remember, there will be ups and downs. The down times are only temporary, and you’ll get through them. In the end, you’re a brave person, choosing to leave your home country and live in another one, and you’ll be very proud of yourself for what you will have accomplished.”
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with him in Toronto, and he told me all his stories about his experiences as an international student, from graduation to permanent residency. It was true, he had experienced the ups and downs, but he got through it all. He remembered my words, that those tough times are temporary, and he persevered. Now at age 26, after studying at a Canadian college, failing one term of studies, landing a co-op work placement, and graduating with his diploma, he is successfully employed and making almost $100,000 Canadian dollars per year. He is able to send money home to his parents, granting them a previously unattainable lifestyle. His parents made the sacrifice to support him financially throughout his studies, even when he was failing.
Many students are consumed solely by the stress of obtaining the all-important study permit. This is understandable, since it’s vital to studying in Canada. A study permit is typically valid for the length of your education program, plus an extra 90 days. This extra time after completing your studies allows you to get organized and either leave Canada or apply to extend your stay. Having a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) guide you through this process will help alleviate many of the concerns that come with it.
Once you have obtained your study permit, you must meet the requisite conditions and actively pursue and complete your program of study, as per section 220.1 (1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. If you don’t meet these conditions, you may lose your status as a student and study permit and may also have to leave Canada. Therefore, it’s imperative that you recognize the myriad factors upon which your success depends:
Social support network
- Communicate with your family and friends back home on a regular basis.
- Make new friends in Canada. Although it can be intimidating to approach people you do not know in class, take the initiative on the first day of school and introduce yourself to people. When you see other people in class talking to each other, they are probably just introducing themselves as well.
- Join a peer mentor group at your Canadian school. A peer mentor can show you around campus, and even invite you to join social events on and off campus.
Get involved in the on-campus community
- Join a student club to become familiar with local Canadians and other international students. This is a great way to make new friends and learn about resources in the community to support you.
- Apply for a job on campus to gain extra money and make new friends.
- Join a sports team or club or take part in an extracurricular activity.
- Start building these networks now and take advantage of this opportunity.
Talk to your instructors
- Many students I speak with are afraid to talk to their instructors when they’re doing poorly in a class. They’re afraid to ask questions or challenge their instructor. Remember, it’s your instructor’s job to teach material and help students learn. In order to build a relationship, ask your instructor for help and clarification on assignments, and ask where you can improve if you didn’t do well on an assignment.
- Don’t wait to ask for help. Go to your instructor during office hours or set up a mutually agreed upon time and come with a specific question in mind.
- You might want to use your instructor as a reference for an award application, job interview, or even for a graduate program later on. Start developing the relationships now.
Exercise, eat, and sleep
- It’s so easy to be consumed by your studies that you actually forget to sleep, eat, and exercise. All three of these things are vitally important for students.
- Even if you think you have no time to exercise when you’re studying, take a break. Doing something as simple as 25 jumping-jacks will stimulate your brain and you’ll be able to come back to the assignment with a fresh perspective.
- If you’re running to class, grab something quick like a banana or apple to give yourself some nutrients to think.
- Try going to bed at the same time every day to get into a routine.
If you’re struggling with academic, social, medical, family, or other issues, your school has free resources to support you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to an academic or international student advisor, counsellor, or psychologist, or visit a resource centre on campus to ask for help.
As a student on a study permit, it’s important that you obey the conditions of your study permit. If any of the issues mentioned above are impacting your full-time status as a student and you need to stop studying for an academic term, downgrade to part-time status or withdraw from your program and contact an RCIC right away to get immigration advice. You need to be aware of how this may impact your current immigration status and your ability to apply for future immigration programs.
For example, in order to be eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit after graduation you must have maintained full-time status as a student in Canada during each semester of your study program (except your final semester, which can be part-time, or if you took a leave from studies).
Being informed now can help you make the right choices regarding your immigration status and obey the laws and working regulations while in Canada as a student.