Being an international student can be tough. You’re moving to a different country with a different culture, likely a different language, and extreme weather. We know how challenging it can be, so we asked some international students on campus to share their experiences and offer any advice they have for incoming students.
This year we’re answering your questions about your first year at Carleton on CUSA Hub and here on our blog. It’s all part of our #FirstYearQuestions project. Like us on Facebook and check out the campus feed on CUSA Hub to learn more.
Can you tell us your name, program, and where you’re from?
Name: Brenda Lachowski
Home country: Tanzania
Program: Environmental Engineering
Name: Ilse Mendoza
Home country: El Salvador
Program: English and Communications
Name: Ahmed Hozzayen
Home country: Egypt
Name: Manuela Barcenas
Home country: Colombia
Program: Journalism and Communication
Name: Paul Balcazar (Not pictured)
Home country: Ecuador
What’s living on campus like?
“There’s so many advantages to living on campus. You’re going to make new friends, you’re going to get involved in a lot of activities. It’s just awesome.”
“For me it was really good. I really liked the fact that I was here on campus all the time, so it kind of forced me to learn about everything the campus has to offer. I thought it was really beneficial. I would definitely recommend living on campus in your first year.”
How do you meet people?
“Just get yourself out there. Get involved in everything you can – join clubs, do different activities. That’s the way you’re going to meet your friends.”
“People are so friendly and open minded here that it is possible to meet new friends everywhere. I met many of my good friends in my classes and tutorial groups, or during study groups for exams.”
“I joined the Egyptian Association, and the MSA (Muslim Students’ Association). I play soccer intramurals and I meet new friends there. Even now in my ESL class I have Chinese friends. One time they took me to iftar somewhere and we had Chinese food!”
“Some of my friends that I met at Carleton lived on my floor. Some of the friends that I made were in my classes, but I also met a lot of friends through getting involved with different clubs and societies on campus, and that’s also something I really recommend, especially in your first year. Just test out the waters, and anything that even remotely interests you. Because even it’s something that you’re not too into, you never know what kind of people you might meet there and you never know the kind of relationships you might form.”
Favorite place to hang out on campus?
“The library. All people go there, so I say hi and see all my friends there.”
“The canal. I just like the scenery and it’s just beautiful, especially during the summer.”
For real though, how bad is the winter?
“Yeah, it’s really cold, but just wear layers and you get through it and it’s great. Put on a sweater or a jacket and you’re fine.”
“Egypt was so hot. In Canada, the weather is good. I like winter.”
“Thanks to the tunnels on campus, dealing with the winter has not been very tough for me. It is a blessing to be able to go from your room or the cafeteria to your classes not even wearing a jacket when it is actually -30 degrees outside.”
But what can you even do in the winter?
“You have to try out skating. You might not be able to learn how to skate, but just try out skating. I’d say that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity you’re going to get and it’s free at the canal.
“I really like to cozy up in little coffee shops, for example on Bank Street or on Elgin Street. I like hang out there with some hot chocolate and just study.”
How do you build a support system?
“Get over the shyness and just talk to people. I hate talking to people, but if you just put that to the side for the first couple of weeks and you just talk to people you have a much easier time later on when all the stress comes around and all the projects and assignments and you have people that you can talk to and rely on.”
“Luckily for me I got friends who got me involved in things. Whenever I needed anything they were always there for me.”
“When your family is so far away, your friends become the family that is there to support you. Whenever I face a challenge, I normally like to receive support from my closest friends. However, there are many places on campus that can help you in many things! For instance, contacting your Residence Fellow when you live on residence is a great way to talk about the challenges you are facing. There are also counselling services and lots of people available to listen and help you all the time. That’s what I love about Carleton. I feel that people always care about me and how I’m feeling.”
“I definitely turn to the sisters in my sorority. They’re always there for me, they’re a constant in my life. I know they have my back through thick and thin. I also turn to a lot of friends I made in my first year who learned the ropes with me. They were starting out university life at the same time as I was and we were all figuring things out together.”
Do you miss home?
“I tend to feel a bit nostalgic during holidays, or reading weeks, when I see that most of the students can go and visit their families but it would be too far away for me to visit mine. Moments such as moving in and moving out can also be hard, as we have to look for ways to do those things without the help of our parents or families. This is why, for international students, friends become family, and the main support during transitional and stressful moments.”
“One of the biggest challenges that I faced was feeling like I have family here or feeling like I’m at home here when I really don’t. Getting involved on campus really brings you so close to so many people. Being part of a Greek organization and being an executive of a club on campus helped me to form friendships with people who have become home and become family to me.”
“Try to find that balance between retaining your culture and your customs that you have at home and embracing the new ones that you have here, and just kind of letting them mix in a really comfortable way. It’s really great when you can find yourself in a very very Canadian setting, and then like, to be able to bring your own twist on it with the experiences you’ve had at home. I think it’s really important to not let yourself get too caught up in what you left behind, but also don’t get too caught up in all the new things you have here, because you have so much to offer because of your different world views as an international student, and I think that and I think that those things are really valuable”
Try new things! Go to the Carleton Expo and sign up for different clubs and societies. Get involved. Don’t let your university experience be just going from your room to your classes and back. That’s my main advice, apart from, of course, going to your classes and trying to put the best effort on your studies.
Do you have more questions about your first year at Carleton? Post them on our online platform, CUSA Hub, for a chance to win $250 and a CUSA prize pack! Visit cusaonline.ca/cusahub to learn more.
For more information about Carleton International Student Orientation, contact the International Student Services Office (ISSO).