When I made the decision to study at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, it was a huge step for me. Arriving in Vancouver, Canada for the first time, I was all kinds of ecstatic, nervous, energetic – and cold. There is no doubt that Canada and India are poles apart, but knowing about these differences before you start your journey could help you to get over difficulties faced by Indian students in Canada and go with the right mindset before you move to this seemingly unknown territory.
Moving to a new country on the other side of the world, especially alone to study, can feel exhilarating and even overwhelming at times! I’m sure just like me, many thoughts will be zooming through your head about all kinds of topics.
The information in this article pertains to my experiences as a student in the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver. Other schools across Canada may adopt similar academic practices, however it is not entirely the same for each institute and faculty within.
Weather for Indian Student
- This was literally the first thing that hit me as I stepped out of the airport with my luggage. Canada’s average summer temperature is around 20oC (a cool winter’s night here in India), and its average winter temperature is well below 0oC (our freezers are this cold, cooling water for us to drink in the summer). You can probably imagine how big of a change this is for anyone coming from a tropical, humid country such as India. In order to be more prepared, I would suggest doing some searching on the temperature range for the city you will be moving to, and ask anyone you know who has lived there for more insight.
- Depending on which location in Canada you are residing in, the amount of snowfall is variable, but inevitable. This being said, be sure to pack a few sweaters, light jackets (windbreakers), scarves, gloves, and beanies with you. I recommend you buy heavier items such as thick snow jackets and snow shoes at your destination city as these would add extra load to your check-in luggage, when travelling from India.
- Don’t forget that the warmer months (May to August) have plenty of sunshine and longer days, so don’t forget to bring shorts, flip-flops and sunglasses.
Diversity of people, including cultures, languages
- Another important aspect I noticed during my first few weeks here is the diversity of cultures. People from all around the world have come to study, work, and settle here, and it’s amazing how many different countries are represented on campus as well! You will get to interact with people from a great range of backgrounds, native languages, religions, and cultural traditions. It may take some time to get used to their accents, clothing style, or lifestyle, but it is important to embrace the diversity as you are in a new country.
- Never assume anything about anyone according to their culture, religion, etc, and most importantly, be respectful!
- With the large assortment of cultures represented, it only makes sense to have an assortment of food as well! Canadian cities are peppered with restaurants and café’s serving food from all around the world – from Lebanese to Japanese to Mexican! Don’t hesitate to try all the variety of cuisines offered, as you never know what new type of food you will take into liking. And if you are vegetarian, like me, then fret not! There are numerous vegetarian options as well, so have an open mind, take some friends and explore the city.
- If you decide to cook at home, you might fancy a trip to the grocery store. Some foods or brands may seem unfamiliar to you, and for me, I was frankly appalled at the choices available! Just make sure to read the labels, as some processed foods have multiple additives that may not suit your diet. Also, if you can buy staple groceries in bulk, do so, as the value for money increases. For example, sharing groceries with your roommates or hall-mates would mean you can buy rice, cereal, and frozen foods in bulk, which can reduce your monthly grocery expenditure.
- And of course, if you’re missing your Desi khana (Indian food), there are plenty of Indian restaurants in the Canadian cities that are run by Indians who have settled there, so they understand that sometimes we miss the comfort of home-style parantha and daal.
Adjusting to new style of teaching and learning
- This might be a new experience for many Indian students who have completed their schooling in India, as the style of teaching and learning is quite different. Each class has a break-down of how the professor will grade you, and the weightage of each aspect into your final grade. For example, in a first-year chemistry class, a mid-term exam is 30%, lab work is 20%, quizzes are 5%, and the final exam is 45%. Most courses require students to pass the final exam in order to pass the course.
- Participation is also rewarded – at UBC, students had to buy an iClicker remote with their textbooks. This remote has the letters A, B, C, D, and E as buttons, and once the serial number of the remote is paired with your student ID (all done online), professors can ask multiple choice questions in class and students can choose an answer. The poll of answers from the class shows up on the projector screen. This way, student participation can be recorded (which can count towards your final grade), and students can practice questions in multiple-choice style.
- In addition, the courses are more application-related than just being based on theory. In some lab courses, students have the opportunity to collect field data from a real study site, and analyze the data through a program. Case studies are often used, and exams and tests focus on using knowledge from different sources to answer the question, rather than memorizing from the textbook.
Working part time and studying
- There are countless options for prospective students in Canada to pursue a part-time job while studying. Many universities have a Work-Study-Work-Learn (WSWL) program, in which the university itself offers students jobs on campus. For example, students can be an assistant or technician in a chemistry or biology lab, under a current PhD student. Or, students can take up a role as a librarian, or even a tour guide for the prospective students coming to look at the university! The WSWL program is competitive, and offers competitive salaries. You can find out more about open positions in the WSWL program through your faculty or academic advisor.
- In addition, there are jobs available off-campus as well. Depending on your interests and time available, you can apply for internships or part-time jobs independently. Make sure all your visa documents are up to date and your resume has been polished!
- The exchange rate for 1 Canadian dollar is approximately 50 rupees. When shopping in Canada, it doesn’t help to constantly do the conversions. Yes, things will be more expensive in Canada. However, keep in mind that the standard of living and purchasing power for both countries are vastly different. It might take a while to get used to this, but after a few transactions, it should be fine.
Getting used to a new place takes more than just a few weeks. However, with friends and family by your side, and with a determined and open mind, it is definitely possible to adjust to the changes quickly.