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Canada: Destination Guides

What it’s like to be a student in Canada

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There’s a lot to love about Canada. It’s one of the safest countries in the world, it’s home to the famous poutine and in terms of their education, over 200,000 international students were enrolled in postsecondary institutions in Canada in 2015.

The decision to study abroad anywhere in the world means a lot of change. However, it’s a choice that can open so many doors whether you choose to study abroad for a semester or for an entire programme.

We spoke to two students who gave us their thoughts on their study abroad experience. Nathan Bradley, originally from Australia, spent two semesters in Quebec and Xiaoyang Zhang, originally from China, chose to complete her entire programme in Ottawa. Have a read of both accounts below.



Studying abroad for an entire degree programme

Xiaoyang Zhang on the other hand, chose to study Linguistics with a minor in Psychology in Canada. As she was applying from China, a third-party agent, which is common in certain countries, assisted her in the completion of her application form.

‘I didn’t mind going abroad and then I got the chance and thought why not? My parents gave me the option to stay in China to do my university or go abroad and I went abroad,’ she said.

Although there wasn’t much work on her part for the undergraduate application, the graduate application required her input and additional documentation such as a final transcript, her resume, a reference letter and a letter of intent.

The quality of education lived up to her expectations and she found that inductions like the university’s campus tour as well as other support services helped her settle in.

‘I didn’t know there was so many services on campus that can actually help students. They had career development services and a mentoring centre,’ she said.

These services are important for international students who move to a country different in culture and language. The sudden change of pace and instances where you don’t know anyone can lead to many students feeling homesick, which Xiaoyang experienced when she first moved to Canada.

‘I would spend time talking to my parents every single night but then I started making friends and then I found I could reach out to them and that made me feel better. One year later I got a summer job and things changed because I now have the opportunity to meet new people. I feel much better compared to before,’ she reflected.

Xiaoyang plans to start her masters in the fall and is currently working full time during the summer. In terms of her future plans, she hopes to continue her studies with a PhD and pursue work in Canada for a while. The experience has been an excellent one for her in terms of her personal growth too – something she may not have experienced if she stayed in China.

‘I doubt it because I would have my family in China so I don’t think I would be as independent as I am right now.’

Even though she has integrated well in Canada, home is really where the heart is as she tells me, ‘in the end I would like to go back to China for sure.’



Studying abroad as part of a degree programme

Safeera Sarjoo: Why did you choose to study in Canada?

Nathan Bradley: Really the short answer is I play ice hockey and I wanted to play more ice hockey. Outside of that I found I liked the idea of visiting a country that was quite similar in values to Australia, and I chose Quebec specifically because I thought it might be like a different country as well. I felt that I could foray into this foreign culture, but if I felt a bit too intimidated I could always retreat back into the anglophone culture. If I went somewhere like France, I would be stuck there, I wouldn’t have that retreat.

SS: How did you find the people over there? Are Canadians as friendly as people say they are?

NB: I found all the Anglophones super, super friendly, the Franco folks are a little bit more stand offish. They kind of make you feel a little bit like you’re a visitor in their province if you don’t speak French. They’re not quite as welcoming. Initially I thought it was the culture but I got to know some French Canadians and they were like it’s kind of like a Quebec thing. They’re very proud of their culture. They want you to comply to them. 

SS: Did you end up learning any French?

NB: No. I learnt how to read it a lot more because of their language rules and things. You either have to ask for a separate menu or stuff like that if you’re outside. A lot of places don’t do translations at all. So, I picked up a lot of French just by looking at things.

SS: What was your day to day life like in Quebec including things like socialising?

NB: It was pretty easy. I stayed in downtown, which is the city centre pretty much. You can speak English there and there’s no issues at all. However, travelling a little bit further north, south or east from there, it gets much more French. When it came to socialising, I found that a lot of people could speak English or could communicate in broken English.


SS: I know you did two semesters there but what was the application process like?

NB: It was a little bit more challenging for me than other people from my university who also went to Quebec. I had to apply for what’s called a CAQ, which is a Quebec certificate to let you study there for more than six months. So, I had to get that before I completed my student visa application to Canada and that took a long time. I got my response from Quebec immigration on the last day they said they could contact me.

SS: Is this CAQ specific for Quebec?

NB: Yes, it’s a provincial thing. I’m pretty sure no other province has something like that. Quebec’s, education system is different to other parts of the world. When they finish high school, I think in their 11th year, they apply to do what’s called CEGEP, where they do their final year of high school and their first year of university. So, you’d apply to specific CEGEP programmes.

SS: Would you recommend the study abroad experience to other people?

NB: Yes, absolutely. You learn a lot about yourself. Because I’ve travelled for so long it’s kind of tricky coming back home. Actually, it’s harder coming home than it is going over. If you’re someone who doesn’t really get homesick I’d really recommend it, but if you have trouble being away from home for like a week or something then it’s maybe not the best thing.

SS: Would you recommend Quebec specifically or would you advise going elsewhere in Canada?

NB: I would suggest Quebec actually. It’s good for young people, it’s got a really good nightlife during summer. There’s a lot of festivals and things and it’s a really nice city to live in.

SS: Did you find there were a lot of other international students while you were there?

NB: There’s heaps of international students in Quebec. From my university, specifically there wasn’t heaps – I was studying at Concordia and I had a lot of friends from McGill – and I met a lot of other Australians at parties and things like that. I met a lot of people mostly from French speaking countries.

SS: You’re back in Australia now, have you got any plans to go back to Canada?

NB: Potentially. I could actually see myself living in Montreal, it’s a really nice city. But my issue is not speaking French, so I would need to learn French before I consider emigrating. I would travel back and a lot of my friends are there too and I wouldn’t have a problem living there.


If this has made you excited at the idea of studying abroad in Canada, start your search now.


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