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Top Four Challenges Faced by International Students

By Ashley Redmond

Published August 10, 2017 • 5 Min Read

International students have high hopes when they enroll in a Canadian college or university. Many chose Canada because of the quality of the Canadian education system, but they do need to pay much higher tuition fees for it. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) estimates international students pay on average more than three times what domestic students pay in tuition.

Besides high fees, once international students are enrolled in a university or college, they still face a number of challenges. According to The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ paper International Education, Labour Market and Future Citizens: Prospects and Challenges for Ontario, here are the top four:

1. Feeling Alienated

Adjusting to living and studying in a new country can be difficult logistically, but the social aspect of not having a nearby support system can add to feelings of alienation among international students.

Dee Singh, 22, is from Mumbai, India and is enrolled in a Health Science program at the University of British Columbia. “The first year was tough,” she says of the loneliness she felt. “New food, new culture — even a different style of learning — but joining clubs and being active in the community helped me a lot.”

Some tips to get socially active in the community:

  • Joining clubs or group fitness classes

  • Volunteering

  • Supporting local sports teams

  • Attending local events and festivals

Bonus: These activities can also provide networking opportunities.

Singh says she still gets waves of homesickness, especially around Canadian holidays when the university is quiet and she can feel the heaviness of not having family close by. But, she tries to make the best of her situation – she knows she is only here for four years – so she makes chai and calls home because these rituals remind her of her roots.

2. Dealing With Finances

For many international students studying in Canada, this is their first time living away from home. So, on top of managing a school workload in another country, they have to learn to manage their money.

“It’s difficult, and for many students there is a lack of clarity regarding what it’s like to actually live in Toronto,” says Jose Balcaceres, Executive Director of the International Center at George Brown College. “Many have visited, but visiting compared to living is very different.”

Money can disappear quickly with rent, food and general living expenses. Plus, most of the planning is done before arriving in Canada, so many times students look for help at the time they are already struggling.

If a student is having difficulties managing finances, Balcaceres says, it’s best to talk to a counselor about finances early on, so you can make a budget. Financial counselling is offered to students at many post-secondary institutions.

When setting up a Canadian bank account, students can also seek financial advice from their financial institution. There’re also online tools available that can help student with budgeting.

3. Integrating Family

If students come to study in Canada as a family with their spouse, one person is entitled to a study permit and the other person is entitled to a work permit. Unfortunately, the person holding the work permit can remain cut off socially from the local community until they have landed a job.

“This is happening more and more. For example, we have a lot of students from Brazil coming for post-graduate studies and their family members need to be integrated into society,” says Balcaceres.

If this sounds familiar — check your college or university and see if there are any integration programs or counselling available for your family member. To have a positive experience in Canada it’s important that all family members feel settled.

4. Accessing the Labour Market

According to Canadian Bureau of International Education’s study, 51% of international students plan to apply for permanent residence in Canada after graduation. And this new study suggests many international students who want to stay feel the labour market is difficult to access. Researchers noted that many students interviewed expressed fear of not finding jobs in their field of study:

Students had a very bleak outlook on their job prospects post-graduation. They described their situation as being ‘really bad’ because of the current state of the Canadian economy. They recognized that the job market was also tough for Canadian students, but stated that it was especially tough for international students and next to impossible in humanities and social science programs.

To help increase prospects, students may want to investigate getting a co-op placement through school to build up their Canadian work experience. Additionally, networking through family connections, previous coworkers, and social contacts met through clubs and events may help your job search.

Overall, international students face more barriers than domestic students when obtaining an education in Canada. But, take the first step , and take advantage of programs already in place to help set you up for success succeed. Moreover, put yourself out there in the community — volunteer, network — make yourself an essential part of the community and you’ll be bound to succeed.

Want to learn more? Here’s some more helpful advice for international students.

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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