The word “community” means people who work together and engage with each other for the common good. Active involvement in community life was always an integral part of my life. It shaped who I am today. At a very young age, I learned to be involved in my community, take action and collaborate with people to get things done.

There were always many life transitions, from moving to cities and changing schools to going abroad and studying in a new country. I learned that understanding and incorporating new values, perspectives, and ways of living come quickly through active community engagement.

In 2020, I came to Canada from Kazakhstan. It was not easy. I was feeling isolated: a new language, different culture and a global pandemic. But I wanted to belong, to be part of this community just like when I was in Kazakhstan. So, I realized that if I want to adapt to a new environment and incorporate its values, I need to start interacting with the community.

Therefore, I decided to live on campus. It allowed me to connect with local people from many different cities in British Columbia and outside. Student Housing at BCIT is well known for its solid sense of community. My roommates became my friends. These people became the first community that helped me to sense Canadian culture.

Reflecting on my experience, being a student helped a lot. The student community is unique because it allows you to meet with people who have the same goals, concerns, and interests as you. Especially with a diverse student body, there is always a chance to learn and grow. Therefore, I got a job on campus and became part of the Student Association, which helped to expand my social connections, raised cultural knowledge, and improved my leadership skills. This community engagement created a fulfilling and impactful experience that significantly influenced my way of seeing life.

Community engagement is very high in Canada. Canadians always look for ways of improving life and solving problems. They genuinely care for the beautiful environment they live in. The realization that the community’s well-being depends on each member gave me an understanding that respect, kindness and sharing are the central values in Canadian culture. Only work and close interaction allowed me to see these.

One of the scariest parts of moving to a new place – at least for me – is the lack of friendships and support network when you arrive. While there are certainly unknowns for international students coming to a new country to study, the nature of attending a school means there are lots of opportunities to make friends with people who are similar in age, meaning some of the work has already been done for you. The trick is to then find folks that have things in common with you or who share your values. In my case, I was lucky to be coming in as part of a cohort of students pursuing a natural resources and environmental studies degree, so an appreciation for our environment was a given. Fortunately, the Canadians are as friendly as advertised (and my fellow international students have been lovely too).

Being so far away from loved ones can be a challenge, and the community that my university has provided me – ranging from friendly faces to lifelong friendships – is something I’ll always be grateful for. These people have both brightened my day-to-day life and taken me on memorable adventures throughout the province. Not only have they emotionally supported me through life’s typical problems, but they’ve banded together in the face of a labour strike at the university, grappled with a pandemic, and consoled one another after the death of one of our classmates. I could not have possibly imagined the sort of adversity I’d have to deal with over the course of my degree since I moved to BC, but these people have been an immense support and I’m a better person for knowing them.

I plan on graduating over the summer, so depending on how opportunities shake out these may well be my last few months living in British Columbia and Canada. I intend to make the most of my remaining time by appreciating the connections I’ve made to both people and places here. While the past year and a half hasn’t been the easiest, I remain thrilled that I decided to move to Prince George, attend UNBC, work with the people I do, and befriend all the folks that I have in Northern BC. Thank you, BC.

It has been three years since I came to Vancouver to pursue my Bachelor’s degree. As I write this blog, I find myself in a comfortable position with my life here. I’m emotionally connected with friends I’ve made, I’ve stayed on top of studies and work, and I’m starting to take on responsibilities as an adult.

However, looking back, it has not been always easy, especially during my first few months here. Learning to live in a foreign country, transitioning from high school to university, and becoming independent in every way possible. I remember not having the courage to speak in a 150-person lecture hall given my shyness and language barriers. I remember feeling homesick and feeling envious of domestic friends who got to go home every day. I remember getting stressed about all sorts of IRCC paperwork, bank statements, and insurance; all things I never used to worry about.

What would I recommend to incoming international students? Strategize what social relationships to maintain, think about how much time to dedicate to work, hobbies, and studying, and recognize what is creating a meaningful impact for your life. Disengage with ones that do not. What has helped me is staying active in clubs, working a part-time job or two, doing volunteer work, and being responsible for my own learning. Over the years, my involvement in these things has strengthened my soft and hard skills and exposed me to numerous opportunities.

I certainly do miss the comfort I get back home under the protection of my loving parents. However, growing up is about exploring new adventures and taking risks. As I continue to build relationships and a life here, this land once foreign to me has started to feel like home.

Are you familiar with questions like: “What do you plan to do after you graduate university?” and “Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?” The process of discovering your interests and setting goals for your professional life may seem daunting, especially as an international student. Here’s some core guidelines to help set you up for a fulfilling career after your studies.

  1. Seek mentorship: Having mentors and people who can support you in your career journey is important. You may have questions or concerns about a certain industry, company or even planning your career in general. By having a mentor, you can learn directly from his or her experiences, accumulated knowledge or through someone from their network. How can you get mentors then? Be willing to sign up for info sessions, mentorship programs, and networking events organized by your school or companies. When I was in my first year of university, I joined a mentorship program in my faculty. My mentor connected me with resources that helped me grow more familiar and comfortable with career goals and planning.
  2. Seek resources within and outside your school: The process of creating a resume and writing a cover letter requires a level of knowledge on best practices to be used. Therefore, you should attend workshops that offer career guidance and tips on how to create a resume and cover letter. You can also find videos, articles, and other resources online that could help you navigate your professional development.
  3. Do more than just classes: Prior to my arrival in Canada, my parents and loved ones reinforced the need to stay focused on classes and take my education seriously. Education is very important; however, there are many more enlightening experiences you can gain outside the classroom. For example, you can be involved in student organizations within your school or volunteer your time and skills to different initiatives. Not only will these activities help you grow personally, but you can also gain skills and knowledge that will enable you stand out in the job market. Additionally, you can be strategic about the extra-curricular activities you engage in by tailoring them specifically to your interests and proposed future career.
  4. Maximize LinkedIn and make connections: LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network and a great tool that I have used in my professional development. With this application, you can connect with industry professionals, find jobs, and gain tips and tricks to help your career journey. I have found quite a few individuals and organizations that aim to help international students maximize their potential. You will be surprised at how many individuals and organizations willingly reach out to international students to offer encouragement and assistance with students’ challenges and questions.
  5. Remain open-minded and willing to learn: One of the new mantras I’ve incorporated into my life is never say never. In this journey of discovering and forging your career path, you may need to acquire new skills and embrace perspectives you never considered. I’ve heard many stories of individuals who eventually took a completely different career path from the ones they had envisioned. As we encounter new experiences and knowledge, parts of us change which could influence our career choice. By remaining open-minded, you give room for growth and limitless opportunities. It may be difficult overcoming your fears at first, but a growth mindset can become stronger by truly investing in yourself.

Mental health and self-care are interconnected parts of our individual lives. In our world today, many people only associate the term “self-care” with nurturing and pampering our physical bodies. For me, I infuse habits that help maintain my mental health into my daily self-care methods. As an international student, one of the major challenges I had upon my arrival in BC was overcoming my homesickness. It is indeed tough to transition to a new environment, educational system, and phase of life without having your family and friends present with you. It took a toll on my mental health and I longed to go back to my home country, Nigeria every day. However, having spent over a year in Canada, I have grown to adapt and appreciate this new environment. Here are some steps that I took that have been immensely helpful:

  1. Building and nurturing new friendships and relationships: Meeting new people and spending quality time with close friends has been fundamental in maintaining my mental health. Having a community of people who I can be trust and be vulnerable with has helped me to overcome anxiety, loneliness, and terrible days.
  2. Being intentional about communicating with friends and family at home: I make it a priority to call or send texts to those I care about deeply back home. In those conversations, I can be transparent about my mental state and receive encouragement and support when school got tough or I had some other life challenges. They act as a backbone that keep me standing and mentally stable, constantly reminding me of my roots and true heritage.
  3. Journaling: Writing has been a channel of expression for me for as long as I can remember. With journaling, I become open about how I feel and avoid denial of any mental health challenges I face. From acknowledging these feelings, I can take active steps to change or manage the challenging situation.
  4. Music: I simply cannot imagine my life without music. Over time, I created different playlists with different themes, and I can play my favorite songs depending on my mood. Listening to music is a great way to unwind and keeps me motivated when carrying out some tasks.
  5. Getting at least eight hours of sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for me to perform well the following day. Even when I have busy days, I try as much as possible not to deprive myself of good sleep. I also take short naps during the day when I can.
  6. Reading books and listening to podcasts: I am an avid reader and a listener of podcasts. I take pleasure in reading novels and listening to podcast episodes, especially on the weekends. With books, I try to read more books in print to reduce my screen time. These activities help me de-stress and keep me entertained yet gaining new knowledge.
  7. Staying off social media: I delete my social media apps often to protect my mental health especially when there are unpleasant happenings. With the unending feed of posts and information, it is overwhelming to process some information. Therefore, I have learned to step back when I feel the need to.
  8. Physical Activities/Exercise: In a time when most of us live a sedentary lifestyle, staring at our computer screens and smartphones, I have become more intentional about setting some time aside to engage in physical activities. I take long walks, do simple aerobic exercises, and dance. Dancing is also very therapeutic for me and just the little ray of sunshine I need on some days. With a good playlist, doing physical activities can become much more fun.

These tips and actions have helped me maintain my mental health. Nonetheless, I am constantly seeking new methods and activities that can keep me grounded and maintain a healthy balance in all areas of my life.