International Student Profile is a program where students who are in second year or above to share about their experiences at UTM. Students will share about their journey at UTM or being in Canada. Topics range from the stories of overcoming obstacles, re-adjusting plans and dedication in facing challenges, sharing their success stories with other students, and/or their personal growth. These student stories aim to motivate students to share their stories with other students to let them know they are not alone in these moments.
I went to high school in Singapore where we had to choose a stream in our second year of high school. I was 12 at the time and there was a lot of external pressure to pursue the “pure sciences” stream. Being so young, I yielded and decided to take up the chemistry/physics stream (my high school did not offer pure biology). This meant that when I would begin university, I would have to continue to pursue the sciences. At the time, I liked it enough to stay in the program even though, deep down, I knew my interests lied mostly in biology and the social sciences.
When I moved to Canada, I continued to pursue chemistry and applied to UofT’s Chemical and Physical Sciences department. In the beginning, I did well in CHM110 but soon enough, my lack of passion in the subject area caught up to me and my grades began to slip. It was very difficult to come to terms with the fact that I no longer wanted to pursue something I had been working my whole academic career for but after talking to the academic and student counsellors from the Office of the Registrar and the Health and Counselling Centre, I managed to find the courage to switch programs. I found a subject called “anthropology,” something I had never heard of before, and decided to take it to fulfil my distribution requirements. To my surprise, I became very invested in anthropology and rediscovered my love of learning and reading! I’m in my fourth year now, about to graduate with a specialist in anthropology. To all students out there, I encourage you all to follow your passions, not just what people expect of you. There is so much more to learning and education than the grades you receive.
I first came to Canada for an exchange program in 2016. My English was not the best, but I made some friends and we bonded over music. They introduced me to k-pop, a genre that I hadn’t heard before. In fact, that exchange program was the first time I came into contact with cultures different than the one I was raised in and the one I saw in the media. In Brazil, people love to share the art they consume, but most people have more-or-less the same cultural background, so it was nice to hear people sing in a language other than Portuguese or English. A couple of years later, I returned to Canada to attend a boarding school in Hamilton. There, I made friends from all over the world, which really broadened my horizons. I noticed that many of my friends spoke Mandarin and I became interested in learning the language, which is a journey that I am still on.
Since starting my studies at UofT, I have attended Language Conversation Circles and the Global Intercultural Fluency Training Series. Through these programs hosted by the International Education Centre, I was able to connect with others who shared in my interest of globalizing my perspectives while further developing my social skills. Since then, my interests have expanded from k-pop to TV and music from various countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Learning about so many different cultures has inspired me to dive deeper into my own as well, which lead me to pursue a Latin American and Caribbean studies Minor! If I had one piece of advice for my First-Year self, it would be to not be afraid to try new programs that university gives you access to, as well as volunteer opportunities. Even if you are shy, you can make new friends and open up new doors!
When I was 14, my family decided to move from Hong Kong to Australia. I then started grade 9 and, although I had learned some English back home, it was still really hard to communicate and interact with others in a foreign language. I also experienced culture shock! For example, I was confused as to why people always asked “how are you?” in the beginning of every conversation. In Hong Kong, we just get straight into the subject. Once I found out you could just say “I’m good” without really getting into it, it made things easier. After some time, it also became a lot easier to understand what others were saying, and I realized that they talked about the same things that my friends and I talked about back home, but just in a different language! Relating to them felt more natural now.
However, once I finished High School, my family moved again, but to Canada this time! The transition was a lot different this time around though: there wasn’t as large of a language barrier, but I didn’t have school anymore and it was hard to make friends from scratch. On top of that, I was nervous about applying to Canadian universities. I wasn’t really familiar with them and didn’t know if I would get accepted. I didn’t even know UofT had three campuses! Eventually, I started working and enrolled in university, where I made so many new friends. My coworkers were really nice, and the diverse population of Canada was a pleasant surprise. In Australia, I went to a predominantly white High School, but here there were people from all over the world, including other Asian countries! Living on residence definitely helped make my first year a wonderful time of new connections and experiences.
Because I’ve moved around quite a bit, I really learned to expand my comfort zone instead of simply stepping out of it. I adopted a growth mindset, and decided to seek discomfort as a way to learn more about myself and others, as well as living a more balanced life!
I was born in a small village in Pakistan, moved to Saudi Arabia at 3 months old, then to Germany 9 years later, and to Dubai 6 months after that! Safe to say, I've had a lot of adapting to do in my life. However, moving to Canada has been the biggest change so far. Everywhere else that I have lived has had pretty similar cultures and, because I went to international schools all my life, I thought I had seen all that there is to see. Coming here has truly been a reminder that there is always room to grow and learn more about how others choose to go about their lives, as well as how you choose to go about yours!
North America is so different than I had expected, it really is like the movies! One mahor culture shock that I experienced moving here was the differences in social dynamics and norms. Here, friend circles operate very differently. For example, friendships are not as casual as they are back home, and things can get very intense very quickly (often in a good way, though). It is also acceptable, and expected, to voice your dissatisfaction when they upset you, which would not be well received where I grew up. Professors' relationships with students are also different and marked by a distinct hierarchy. Back home, I was used to sitting down and having coffee and chats with my university professors before I transferred here. I have also noticed that workplace relationships are more professional here, and others aren't as likely to demand that you stay after hours or do tasks outside of your role. I do appreciate this understanding of personal boundaries that seems to be prevalent here!
Regardless of the pros of Canadian cultures, it has definitely taken some adapting: I have found that what works best for me is to retain my core values when adapting to a different culture, which I ahve since realized doesn't require sacrificing my own! Personally, I have made some small changes, like being more open with others about how I feel about them.