‘Don’t think you can survive on canned food’ & other things I learned studying in Toronto, Canada

With COVID-19 transforming life as we know, students are debating whether to delay or scrap their study abroad plans indefinitely.

If you’re planning to get on the first plane once it’s no longer a threat to travel, get ready for plenty of thrill and jitters for what’s in store for you.

There will be many questions swarming in your head, such as “Will I be able to make friends?” “Is it hard to get a job?,” “Should I stuff my suitcase with snacks from home?”

Kasvi Khosla, 21, remembers having all these doubts and questions when she was preparing to move from New Delhi, India to Toronto, Canada last year to pursue a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Relations-Corporate Communications at Sheridan College.

With almost a year’s worth of wisdom reaped since, Kasvi has some to share with others aspiring to study abroad in Canada in the near future:

Contact those who are already studying abroad

international student

Social media is a powerful tool for prospective international students to connect with other students abroad. Source: Juliette Jocard/AFP

One of the best things to do once accepting your offer to study abroad is to get advice from others who are already at the college or university of your choice. It can be about the professors, campus life, size of dorm beds and so forth.

If you’re comfortable, look students up on social media, like LinkedIn, Twitter or even Instagram and try asking them for advice, said Kasvi.

Research work opportunities

international student

Explore internship opportunities that might be useful for professional growth. Source: Ina Fassbender/AFP

Are you planning to work part-time while you study, and find a permanent job in the country once graduating?

Kasvi’s advice to international students would be to do their research on both of these — early!

“I was with people [in my programme] who had done such thorough research, including about the companies that they wanted to work for, who works there, what kind of work they do and what kind of projects they’ve taken up,” she said. 

“I thought I was doing enough — but no, you need to know what kind of work they’re doing because when they come and speak at your college, you should be able to raise your hand and say, ‘Hey, I really like the programme that you did. I really like this campaign that you did. And I’d like to talk to you more about it.’”

Some places are more competitive than others, however, so it pays to do your research as you’ll never know when it might help you stand out.

As it’s been said, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. And this is especially pertinent when you’re studying abroad.

Network, network, network

Don’t let your shyness get in the way of meeting people. Instead, Kasvi advised, take the plunge and sign up for networking events, practice networking and step out of your comfort zone.

“If you can talk to someone, give them an elevator pitch about yourself to get your foot in the door,” she said.

Kasvi has the privilege of being based in Canada’s largest city, but she said students in cities of all sizes still stand to benefit from any networking when they’re studying abroad.

Tackling homesickness

Being away from home over a prolonged period can bring bouts of homesickness, so bring items from home that will comfort you in these moments, said Kasvi.

“You can get really homesick here,” she said.

New-found friends will fill this gap sooner or later, but there will be days when snowstorms would keep you away from each other. Kasvi’s tip? Pack pictures of your loved ones — they will be the warmth (albeit in paper form) during those cold days.

Just order food online

Studying abroad may be synonymous with more cooking to save costs, but if your schedule is packed with little time left to cook, practise some self-care by subscribing to food delivery services, some of which student budget-friendly options.

“A lot of my friends who are working do it. By the time they come back from work, they’re tired or don’t want to cook, so it’s good to have that, and they’re reasonable as well,” she said.

“Don’t think that you can survive on canned food,” said Kasvi, adding that students should prioritise their health.

Get work experience

Even if it’s challenging to find work, Kasvi pushes international students to persevere and apply for jobs. 

“Even if your parents are fully funding you, get a job,” she said, adding that it’s good for students to experience different work cultures for their personal and professional development.

On- or off-campus?

international student

Is the distance worth it? Weigh the pros and cons and decide accordingly. Source: GEOFF ROBINS/AFP

As an international student, it’s always tricky deciding where to live when you’re studying abroad — if it’s closer to campus, rent is usually higher and vice versa.

Kasvi’s advice is to really think this one through.

Some students live in cheaper accommodations on the outskirts but have to resort to long commutes to get to university, which can be exhausting and time-consuming in the long run.

Don’t bring your house with you

international student

International students will be pleased to find some Asian, Middle Eastern or other cultural standalone stores – especially if you’re studying abroad in a multicultural city, where you can buy spices, snacks or foods from your home country. Source: Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP

Students usually get around 40kg luggage allowance. Things add up quick so it’s best to pack light, taking only essentials. You can always buy once you’ve arrived at your destination instead stuffing your luggage with heavy items like winter jackets, bedsheets and food items like rice.

If you’re worried you’ll miss the taste of home, research to see if you can get your favourite snacks or ingredients to recreate your mum’s specialties at shops near your future student housing.

Those headed to Toronto would likely not have any problem with getting what they need, given how multicultural the city is.

To live in a cosmopolitan place is to be surrounded by a variety of food and supermarkets that cater to several different cultures. Take it from Kasvi, who was pleasantly surprised to find Maggi instant noodles, along with Indian spices and frozen parathas at her local Walmart. 

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