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4 Tips for International Students to Help Adjust to Life in Canada

By Sean Lough

Published November 12, 2021 • 4 Min Read

A version of this article originally appeared on Arrive powered by RBC Ventures Inc.

Canada is known for its cultural diversity, but many international students are still surprised by how different life in Canada is from back home. As a student from another country, adapting to cultural differences may still take time and effort.

Here are tips from other international students to help you adjust to your new life in Canada.

1. Language

“Language was one of the biggest cultural barriers for me when I arrived in Canada in 2017. International students who are not confident about their language skills often had trouble communicating in class and felt excluded,” says Lucas, a former international student from Brazil.

Even students with the highest IELTS scores may need time to adjust to the differences in the pronunciation and vocabulary of Canadian English. In addition, studying in English for the first time may be a challenge for students who are new to Canada.

“It is important that international students overcome their fear of English. Work on improving your listening and speaking skills by practicing as much as you can,” says Lucas.

Consider your school’s student clubs or study groups as places that might help you develop your English skills. There are also many YouTube videos and Canadian podcasts for all levels of students to help you better understand Canadian accents as well as regional words and phrases.

A female international student raising her hand in class, surrounded by other students

2. Politeness

“One of the first things I noticed was that people in Canada are very polite. Unlike some cultures where people tend to get straight to the point, small talk is an essential skill in Canada,” says Ke, an international student who came to Canada from China in 2019.

What Canadians consider to be polite may be different than what is considered polite in your home country. For example, Canadians often begin conversations with “small talk.” Small talk can include general topics like the weather, hockey or baseball, hobbies, current events, and other impersonal subjects. And because Canadians tend to value their privacy, until you know someone well, personal questions like how much they make or if they are in a relationship might be considered impolite or rude.

3. Canadian culture

“It’s natural to miss what is familiar. Many international students miss the people and cultural aspects of their home country and start feeling lonely and homesick,” says Siang, who came to Canada as an international student from Malaysia in 2008.

Keep an open mind, talk to people from different backgrounds, and view this as an opportunity to learn about different cultures. Expanding your circle of friends can help you adjust to life in Canada by connecting you with people from different backgrounds. Student societies and clubs in your school are a good place to start.

A female international student smiling, walking on campus with a Canadian classmate.

4. Your own culture

People from your home country in Canada may have navigated the same challenges as you. You can find ways to connect with your home community in Canada. Sign up for on- or off-campus community groups to meet people with similar backgrounds.

With phones, video calls, and email, it has never been easier to keep in touch with family and friends — no matter where they are. Get updates on how things are at home, share your new experiences, and get advice from people you trust.

Finally, don’t feel pressured to hide your background. While it is important to adapt, remember: your identity is your own and diversity is what makes Canada great.

As you settle in, you’ll likely have questions about banking in Canada. Connect with an RBC Banking Advisor to get helpful tips to manage your money.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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