As a student at the University of British Columbia, I was fortunate to have access to various support services.

Living on campus, particularly in the first year, is something I’d highly recommend. My Residence Advisor was incredibly supportive. She was always available to answer my questions about academics, social life, and adapting to life in Vancouver. She guided me through understanding the co-op program, getting involved in research, and exploring housing options. Whenever I needed advice, I’d find myself knocking at her door. Residence Advisors are well-trained to provide support in various areas, including mental health.

When it came to academic support, my professors were accessible and approachable. They held office hours, where we could discuss not just course-related issues, but also my long-term academic goals. The Psychology Student Association organized multiple events for networking with professionals from relevant career fields, which was super valuable. I only started attending these events in my third year and wish I had done so sooner. Participating earlier would have helped me to create a more structured plan for grad school and feel less overwhelmed during my first year. Advisors from UBC’s Academic Advising office were also able to support me in making sure I was on track with the right courses for graduating in time.

Lastly, when it comes to health support, I was lucky that UBC has mental health counselors in residence, its own hospital, and three clinics on campus – two for general health and one for dental care. There are also many virtual health options available at no extra cost to students with valid health insurance. However, in emergencies, it gets tough due to high wait times in BC. Many of my friends went through long, painful waiting periods. The wait times for specific scans can also be lengthy, which is problematic when immediate assessment is needed. This is an area in which BC can improve. Hopefully the wait times will be decrease in the future.

The beauty of building a support network as an international student lies in its unexpected sources. Unlike math, which follows a single formula, support can take various forms. Imagine bonding over coffee with someone twice your age or from a country oceans away from your homeland. The exposure to people with vastly different backgrounds is what makes Canada a beautiful place to call home.

I was fortunate that the University of British Columbia gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded people through various avenues.

As an international student, one of the easiest ways to start making friends is by meeting people who live in the same residence or study the same subjects. Residence Advisors organize events to help students connect, and different faculties host department-wide socials too. Frequent interactions make it easier to maintain the relationships. There is no need to feel hesitant to express feeling of lost or overwhelmed. In my experience, people appreciate this vulnerability, making it easier to develop a bond. Knowing that support was minutes away in my first year helped me feel safe and comforted in a new country.

Universities also have clubs catering to a wide range of interests. Sharing a passion can help break the ice and expand both your skills and support network. The same applies to on-campus jobs in your field of interest. Interacting with colleagues in these roles provided me with valuable learning opportunities and mentorship to guide me when I was lost in the sea of information. While psychology is a popular major, it’s often challenging to find career-related information. Talking to my mentors helped me understand prospects and whether it was a good fit for me.

As an international student, it takes time to understand the nuances of different industries in Canada, especially if the work culture differs from that in your home country. Remember, it’s crucial to be open to the idea of seeking the support you need to build a solid support network.

When I left Zimbabwe to study in Canada, I quickly realized the importance of responsible independence as I was in a new country with no one to oversee my spending on food and clothing. During the first months, I experienced culture shock, overwhelmed by everything from malls to grocery stores.

Living in BC isn’t cheap and it requires a budget-friendly lifestyle. I wanted to wear the well-known brands but at what cost? There was no one to impress and such spending would only strain my wallet and worry my parents. My strategy involved distinguishing my needs from my wants.

I started preparing balanced, weekly meal plans to meet both financial and nutritional goals. I followed a basic grocery list from Wallet Moth, allocating some budget for snacks like granola bars to eat during classes or in the library. I also shopped for “short-term” clothes at thrift stores like Value Village, which helped me save money for other expenses like my phone contract and subscriptions. For essential, “long term” items like my first winter jacket and boots, I invested in new, durable pieces that would last well beyond graduation. For textbooks, I either bought second-hand copies from students on Facebook Marketplace or simply rented them from the library when available.

I also took an on-campus job that covered minor expenses and allow for occasional treats.

My advice to fellow international students is to stick to a strict basic monthly shopping list for daily necessities. While following fashion trends may be tempting, remember that it can lead to an unsustainably expensive lifestyle in the long run.

Through navigating a variety of  situations as an international student, I’ve learned the importance of understanding my rights. When I first arrived in BC at Thompson Rivers University, I was informed of my rights, which catered to both international and domestic students.

During the pandemic, I struggled with my mental health. Constantly being stuck indoors severely impacted my social well-being. Post-pandemic, I found it challenging to interact with other people or be in public spaces, often feeling anxious. I tried to suppress these emotions, but it only made it worse, which led to panic attacks.

My friend Tawana noticed my distress and asked me if I was aware of the free student services offered by our university. At that moment, I wondered if it was already too late to seek the help that I needed. Tawana introduced me to university resources such as spiritual support from the chaplain and counselling sessions. I was initially apprehensive, but eventually, I gained confidence by consistently attending these sessions.

To my international student peers, I urge you to get familiar with the services and rights available to you at your university. Understanding these can enhance your educational experience. Don’t hesitate to seek help, even if you are unaware of these resources initially. There’s always someone who can support you.

As an international student navigating the vibrant academic landscape of Vancouver, British Columbia, my journey has been marked not only by the pursuit of knowledge but also by the  effort to maintain mental well-being. The whirlwind of academic stress, coupled with the challenges of balancing school, work, and my personal life, has led me on a quest to discover effective strategies for sustaining my mental health.

One of my strategies is regular exercise. Nature walks and weekend hikes have become essential components of my routine. They provide a therapeutic escape and a chance to clear my mind. Vancouver’s breathtaking natural surroundings have become my refuge amidst the demands of academia. I’ve found solace in exploring the city’s beautiful views. One of my favourite spots is English Bay as it reminds me of my hometown.

Establishing a support system and building community connections is also important. Engaging with the student community and spending time with friends has allowed me to forge meaningful connections. Sharing experiences with peers who understand the challenges of studying abroad, provides emotional support and enhances a sense of belonging, especially when we speak in our native language.

Acknowledging the importance of mental health, I utilized counselling services offered by my university’s insurance. The culturally sensitive counsellors provided a safe space to discuss my struggles. Together, we developed coping strategies tailored to my needs, supporting me in my academic journey.

As an international student, study has been my primary focus, but I’ve learned that balance and taking care of my wellness is equally important. Embracing the city’s natural beauty, building a support network, and seeking professional help have become the pillars supporting my mental health. By integrating these practices, I’ve discovered a more sustainable path to academic success and well-being in this multicultural and dynamic city.