I’m now in my second month away from home, marking the beginning of a five-year study abroad journey and my inaugural trip to the West. In the southeastern part of Canada, a staggering 13,000 kilometers from my home in Asia, the way of life here is markedly different.
One of my looming apprehensions was the prospect of returning home, unable to find my footing or adapt to this new environment. Such dilemmas are common; several of my friends and even close relatives have dealt with similar worries.
However, I believe that one can preemptively equip themselves with life experiences. While no preparation is absolute, an evolving tapestry of lessons is always waiting upon each new horizon. I’ve interwoven my previous life wisdom with cursory insights into Canada gleaned from Wikipedia and whimsical memes.
Knowing the language is just the first step
It’s paramount not to merely comprehend their language but to deeply resonate with their culture. Mastery of a foreign language is undeniably vital when stepping out of Vietnam, but it’s only the foundational layer. The prevailing culture is the architect of societal behaviors. In the face of the inevitable challenges of relocation, immersing oneself in and understanding the culture becomes the beacon that guides and assists, especially when familiar faces are continents away.
Interestingly, the “warm-hearted Canadians” stereotype isn’t just a fable. They’ve embraced this image, amplifying it through media channels to allure more international talents. Their friendly nature is palpable, from street greetings to generous assistance overtures whenever you seem lost or burdened.
Upon my arrival from the airport, I was frequently advised on where to secure a phone SIM card, how to get a social insurance number, and recommendations for the best banks. All this helps me integrate more quickly into the new surroundings.
With its rich immigrant heritage, Canada is a melting pot of ethnicities and distinct cultural groups living harmoniously. In my city, there’s an opportunity to delve into the cultures of the Indian and Muslim communities, both of which have a significant presence.
This cultural tapestry became even more tangible as I began sharing my living space with a friend from India and another from Bangladesh for at least the foreseeable year. Furthermore, it’s essential to remember that before the waves of diverse settlers, Canada was the homeland of numerous indigenous tribes.
Gaining a comprehensive understanding of these cultures undoubtedly requires time. For anyone starting their journey in a new country, I advise having provisions for internet access and a means to connect with loved ones for support, especially when homesickness strikes.
Additionally, remember to prepare some cash for the first few days until you get accustomed to the surroundings, as some transportation services might not accept card payments due to certain ambiguities related to taxes, for example.
Convenience is Key
What are the foundational comforts that sustain our daily life back home? Reliable electricity, access to clean water, steady wifi, a kitchen equipped for cooking, a refrigerator to preserve our meals, a washing machine, and the list goes on.
Without personal transportation and a tight budget that can’t afford tech-based cabs, it’s crucial to acquaint oneself with the public transport system – where the nearest bus or subway stations are and which routes would take you into the city.
Before I left Vietnam, I did a lot of house-hunting online and reached out to potential landlords. Beyond the photos of the house and amenities listed online with the accompanying price, I meticulously reviewed the rental contract. It not only detailed the basic facilities but also outlined the terms and timelines for their use.
The more challenging task was understanding the location of the prospective house and how to navigate from there to my destination. Since I’d mainly be going to school, I needed the most convenient commute to get there. I looked for places where a single bus ride would suffice, and at worst, I could walk without getting too exhausted.
Moreover, proximity to a supermarket was another priority. During the first month in a foreign country, one might find themselves amidst scattered suitcases or lacking essential items. Hence, I opted for a residence near a supermarket, where I could walk briskly in no time.
My school was situated atop a hill, enveloped by forests and lakes. This landscape is what I mostly encountered during my walks. Rather than saving for a bicycle, I arrived prepared, equipped with sturdy hiking shoes. Every departure from home now transforms into a fitness expedition.
Thanks to this routine, I enjoyed the fresh air, explored many natural lakes and waterfalls, and even made friends with people I met on my walks.
Beyond Weather Apps and News Alerts
My parents always said, “Canada is chilly, so pack your warmest clothes.” But the reality was a bit more nuanced. With the changing climate, this year’s summer temperatures unexpectedly soared. Knowing I’d be arriving at the tail end of summer, my professor suggested I pack light clothing for at least the initial two months. It was sound advice; there were days when temperatures in my city climbed to a sweltering 37°C.
Simply glancing at phone weather updates or news reports doesn’t give you the complete picture, especially in places with complex terrains like my new home. I sought deeper insights by joining local online community groups and regularly reading local newspapers. Through this, I became aware that climate change was a pressing issue in my region, which is rich in forests and crucial ecological zones.
In August, it was estimated that the total area of forest fires in Canada could equal the entire size of Portugal. The resulting smoke even drifted to major cities on the eastern coast, prompting residents to monitor air quality levels daily—something they hadn’t typically done before.
The locals are profoundly conscious of our impact on the environment. Topics that once seemed too “academic,” like climate change implications, are now gaining more public traction and concern.
Engaging with the community helped me adjust my lifestyle to the local climate and environment, ensuring I remained healthy. This connection underscored a realization: even with my hometown being 13,000 kilometers away, I bear a responsibility to the culture and nature here. This understanding became a pivotal lesson from my study abroad—not gleaned from textbooks but from life itself.