It all started with my acceptance letter from St. Thomas University, where I would be spending the next four years of my life. After 18 years of living under my parents' roof, it finally came time to step out of my comfort zone and explore the world. The days leading up to departure were rooted in excitement and fear. So many questions flooded my head with doubts and curiosity about my new adventure.
The day I arrived at Fredericton airport, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. Coming to a new country, I now looked ahead to my first week at a new college. Meeting fresh faces and exploring a different culture and region was so exciting. Every time I met a new person I wondered if they felt as afraid (yet free) as I did. Everything was different.
The differences I experienced as an international student new to St.Thomas University, include:
1. People eat at different times here. Don't be surprised if you crave McDonald's late at night!
I found myself really surprised by the Canadian lifestyle. Back home, I lived by a routine - especially my eating schedule. I was so confused because here lunch was at noon and dinner started in the cafeteria at four o'clock. But, back home, I had lunch at two o'clock and dinner at eight o'clock. By the time it was evening, with this new schedule, I was starving and fantasizing over McDonald’s fries!
2. Living in residence means sharing (almost everything) and, obviously, not living at home.
Living in residence was also a brand new thing for me. Back home, I shared a bathroom with my sister, so sharing the washroom with some other girls didn’t matter to me, but it took time to get used to splitting a room with another person. Thankfully, I quickly realized that having someone there to keep me company and laugh was like having my sister there to support me. The thing is, my family was still in Ecuador, and I could still feel their distance. So, after a long day in class, I would call my parents and sister every night before bed - it was calming and reassuring to know that they supported me and were there for me regardless of the distance.
3. As a new student, you will also be tasked with making new friends (later in life it's different).
All my life, I have been around the same type of people. (I don’t consider myself shy when it comes to making friends, but it was easier when we were kids, we just chose the one we thought was the craziest and started playing with them.) Anyway, making new friends in a new country felt different.
Navigating classes, well, that was new to too and a challenge (at first). For example, I had a five-minute lapse to rush through three buildings and get across campus to my other class. During the fall it wasn’t bad, but I can’t say the same about winter! I am sure I had a fair number of falls in front of strangers. But, over time, strangers became friends.
4. You adapt but, like anything, you can't control the outcome.
Over time, you adapt, but you need to prepare for the unexpected in life, living anywhere in the world. Year three as a student at St. Thomas can be described with one word: rollercoaster. In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit, and my country's borders were on the verge of closing, so I had to quickly uproot again and return home on a last-minute flight. Then, I had to finish second-year exams online before getting ready for summer. Little did we know that it would be just the beginning of a long and exhausting quarantine.
I must say the relief of coming home to my family before things got worse was the greatest blessing. I spent all of 2020 re-discovering myself as an artist, a writer, and an individual. I got to make up for the two years I missed by my little sister’s side. Honestly, even if the world was falling apart, a piece of me felt so peaceful and blessed to be back home.
When classes began, and the university had launched all of the right platforms to acclimate us to the online form of learning, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, with the help of professors and interactive digital platforms, I was able to push through this and overcome any lack of motivation I felt. I believe that going through this made me more deeply appreciate having access to a proper education.
In summary? Growing up, I fantasized about my life in college but arriving in a new country, finally there to study, was surreal. In truth, no one talks about the deep feelings of moving 5,000 km away to a different country. There was no way to know the challenges of being a first-year international student or of what was to come - the world fighting an unprecedented global pandemic. Today, I'm grateful for my experience studying abroad and for where I am now. I am just shy of my last year and excited to return to St. Thomas for the winter semester. However, this time, I have a greater understanding of what I'm heading toward...and what I'm leaving behind.
Remember, even if there are obstacles, never give up because it will make you stronger to confront everything life throws at you. All of my experiences as an international student have empowered me to build a future worth looking forward to.