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CUAC helps international students ease into campus life in Canada


September. It’s the month when, all across Canada, new students (as well as their parents) eagerly descend upon university campuses, treading their ways over the campus thresholds for the first time as ‘registered students’.

Excitement, nerves, and tiny traces of fear – a frenzy of emotions fill the air.

For students coming from thousands of miles away, preparations for this moment start thousands of hours in advance. Months before – if not years, in some cases! With special academic requirements, university applications and visas all part of the process.

For Itchya Karki, a 19-year-old from Kathmandu, Nepal, the lead-up to her departure has been particularly challenging.

She is keen on pursuing a career working in underdeveloped countries. Having spent considerable time travelling to Nepalese villages to help carry out social projects with her local Rotary Club, Itchya now looks forward to pursuing studies that will one day help her to achieve her own dreams: of opening “the best and biggest orphanage in all of Nepal.”

This month, Itchya begins a four-year Bachelors degree in International Development at the University of Guelph. Sitting in the Delhi office of the Canadian University Application Centre (CUAC) in early August, Itchya and her parents took time to explain what it took to get the student on her way – as well as the hurdles yet to come. The University of Guelph is one of several Canadian university members of the CUAC, and its presence and assistance in India made all the difference in Itchya’s final decision.

Originally, Itchya’s parents had offered her four choices for studying abroad – Australia, Singapore, the US, and Canada. Itchya, whose best friend had recently moved to Canada with her family, was keen on the last – “especially for the snow!” which she says she has never seen before. In the end, it was a decision her father approved of – both for its quality of education as well as its level of safety.

According to CUAC Senior Counselor Anusuya Bose, safety is one of the most common concerns families have when sending their children overseas. Having travelled in Canada herself, Anusuya is quick to reassure them.

“It’s very easy for me to talk about my personal experiences, about feeling safe and confident there as a woman,” she says. “I tell them women can take the subway or a cab. Everything is so easy.” In order to ensure students (and families!) feel secure, she also advises students to stay in on-campus housing for at least their first year – something that the CUAC helps its students to arrange.

Another thing that the CUAC prepares students for is general culture shock – by explaining in advance about mixed-gender dorms (a new concept for many), about the type of food available on campus, and about balancing studies with social activities.

According to Anusuya, many international students find the change to Canadian academics particularly challenging. Outgoing and friendly, Itchya is looking forward to meeting new people but this change in academics is her own biggest concern.

“In Nepal I attended an Indian school,” she says, “but in Canada the education system is much different, so I’m a bit scared of that change.”

Anusuya’s response? “I always tell students to study hard! It’s the first piece of advice I give. Obviously, I tell students to enjoy the freedom they’re getting – but always remind them to study. It’s the reason they’re there.” For those students weak in certain subjects, Anusuya also encourages meeting with their academic advisors, in order to arrange special supplementary classes or tutors.

In general, Anusuya says that most students figure out the balance quite quickly.

And in order to help newcomers ‘settle in’ with campus life, many Canadian universities (including the University of Guelph) also offer international student orientation weeks, as well as online portals for students to meet one another in advance of their arrivals.

Itchya and her parents are finding their last-minute schedules are quite full – planning a brief visit to the States before Itchya heads north to Canada, arranging the final flight details, and picking up the student’s newly processed visa. “And shopping!” says Itchya, excitedly.

“Visa first,” her mother, Shwari, gently interjects.

“Yes, visa first,” nods Itchya, looking serious before again breaking into a grin.
“And then shopping!”
– ARWEN KIDD

• Arwen Kidd currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling over-seas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photojournalism projects in Eastern Europe and Australia, and training local journalists in West Africa. Arwen is currently based in New Delhi, India.

• More info on CUAC at www.canada123.org.

Posted: Sep 3, 2010

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