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.

While I was already interested in the University of Northern British Columbia, part of what sealed the deal for me was the project that was presented to me should I decide to attend UNBC – conservation planning work in collaboration with the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation. This opportunity was a chance to marry several of my interests in a single project: conservation, planning, mapping, and Indigenous studies. The goal of my work is to identify areas of the Nation’s territory with the highest ecological value, which in turn will help the Nation make decisions on where to conserve land for its natural value and where to allow industry.

As Tsay Keh Dene Nation is the foundation of this project, I am collaborating with both them and their wholly owned environmental research and consulting firm, Chu Cho Environmental. Together we are working to interweave the Nation’s values and knowledge into the otherwise Western science-based approach I am using, known as systematic conservation planning. We first set out to articulate conservation goals for the territory, then sought to identify which features on the landscape represented those goals. For example, we included caribou and grizzly bear habitat because they each represent large, intact landscapes while also being culturally valuable species to the Tsay Keh Dene.

Another example is refugia areas, or areas that are predicted to be relatively unaffected by climate change and continue to serve as key habitat for wildlife. Using special conservation prioritization tools, we can identify where the greatest concentrations of our conservation features occur, as well as determine which portions of the landscape hold the greatest conservation value today, in the future, and most importantly – where they overlap. This project is unique in that it not only includes data sourced from Indigenous knowledge, but was initiated by Tsay Keh Dene Nation and seeks to further their goals.

Interweaving traditional ecological knowledge on the location of things like medicinal plants, fishing holes, and wildlife habitat paired with Nation influence on each stage of the process make this a truly collaborative project. This inclusive approach should provide meaningful results for Tsay Keh Dene Nation as they make land use decisions in their territory – whether that be where to allow timber harvest, or how to proceed in establishing a massive conservation area in the Ingenika River valley. You can watch a stunning video on the Ingenika Indigenous conservation and management area here.

In the 2020-21 school year, I took on a couple of roles outside of being a student to enrich my educational experiences. Prior to that, despite being actively involved in various extracurricular activities, I was never in a professional setting. Since fall 2020, I have been taking a reduced course load while working part-time for personal and professional development.

My first employment opportunity was through my school – UBC’s Work Learn Program. This program allows current students a chance to apply their knowledge in more practical settings across campus. I work as an Online Project Assistant along with other 11 peers at one of UBC’s Learning Commons, where we solve logistic questions, facilitate workshops, make referrals, and create graphic contents to support UBC student’s academic performance and mental wellbeing. I also work as an undergraduate teaching assistant within my faculty. I support the instructors in course delivery and perform teaching assistant duties including grading and communicating with students.

For me, working part-time has been immensely rewarding. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to expand my comfort zone to become more self aware and reflective. I’m fortunate enough to work with extremely resourceful and kind-hearted supervisors and colleagues, many of whom have become mentors. While taking ownership and responsibility over my work, I’ve expanded my network which has served me well. In fact, networking is the reason why I secured my current positions in the first place. Through cultivating professional skills, I gained confidence and have become more comfortable applying to other jobs.

On average, I work 16-20 hours a week apart from taking courses, volunteering, participating in clubs, and competitions. It can be tiring occasionally, but I do not feel overwhelmed because I truly like what I am doing. Another great thing about working on campus is that your supervisors recognize your responsibility as a student and therefore, your work schedule is very flexible, especially in exam seasons. As for my studies, I still try my very best to achieve excellence by managing my time effectively and being goal oriented. In fact, working while attending school gives me a new sense of purpose, which enhances my school performance.