As of the end of 2019, statistics from the 2020 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Annual Report to Parliament show that 827, 586 international students held valid study permits in Canada. Nevertheless, for what is a large community of individuals who are actively contributing to the economy ($22 billion and 170,000 jobs), international students’ struggles and challenges have historically been pushed to the side.
Canada’s success in attracting international students is no fluke. Those of us who are international students remember the vision and dreams we were sold prior to our arrival: promises of a steady and secure path to citizenship, and a better standard of living. Ideas that resonate powerfully with Nigerians who are fleeing the deeply rooted failures of bad governance. Our discussions last week on Clubhouse suggest that there is still work to be done when it comes to the international student experience. At the end of the day, we have to support one another as a community.
And so, for those of us who were unable to make it, here are some of the tips and tricks shared by community members for surviving your stay:
- Ensure You Are At A DLI
According to the IRCC, a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) is a “school approved by a provincial or territorial government to host international students”. Why is it important to be at a DLI? It means that there is less likely to be any nasty surprises when you graduate and wish to begin your journey towards citizenship. As well, you have to ensure that your DLI makes you eligible for the Post Graduate Work Permit program as “not all designated learning institutions make you eligible”. Basically, ensure you’re always reading between the lines.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Use Student Services
Student unions and organizations often provide a lot of great services to their members which are often very useful. Knowing where your foodbank is and the procedures for accessing it can be a great save in otherwise horrible situations. It’s also great to understand how your health plan works and not be afraid to use it when you have to. All of these services exist to support students and when they are not used, we do ourselves a disservice. Student unions also provide you with academic and legal support when needed.
- Ask For Help & Keep An Eye On Your Status
More often than not, part of being Nigerian is an unwillingness to ask for help even when we need it. The idea that we have to suffer in silence tends to be deep-rooted, but this is untenable in a new country where you don’t have roots. Asking for help and being willing to take advantage of the collective wisdom of those who have been in your position before can help you avoid a lot of unnecessary wahala. As well, knowing when to ask for help means you must be aware of potential problems. This means being aware of expiry dates for documents, deadline for applications, and processing times. In other words, consult but also plan ahead.
- Volunteer When You Get The Chance
Another thing that emerged from our discussions as a recurring point was the value of having volunteer experience on your resume. Being international students, it may be difficult to secure employment opportunities in addition to being students.
When you can’t get a job that works with your schedule, however, having volunteer experience which helps you grow can help you down the line. Some employers like to see it on a resume, and it is an effective way to assimilate oneself into the Canadian professional culture. However, when volunteering, make sure it is within your field and is something that will make sense when you eventually apply for that dream job.
- Take Care of Your Mental Health
Mental Health is still not talked about enough in Nigeria – another side effect of our suffer head mentality. Moving to another country is still a very difficult, alienating and difficult experience. A lot of international students may experience racism where previously they have never had to navigate this kind of systemic discrimination. Culture shock is also its own challenge. Nonetheless, when you need to take a break or require accommodations, it’s important to know where to go to get this and to not feel guilty for needing to take a moment. At the end of the day, if we can’t take care of ourselves, no one else will.
*Please note that this is a blog post and should not be substituted for official immigration advice. Please contact a professional when necessary.*