As an international student, leaving home and beginning a new journey abroad can be stressful and potentially disorienting. When I was leaving home to come study here at York, a lot of questions came to my mind, and I wasn’t sure where to find all the answers or how to move forward with my new life as an international student in Toronto. The months before my arrival in Toronto were some of the most stressful in my life because of the many things of which I had to take care: preparing documents, making accommodation arrangements, thinking through money matters and just generally getting ready for life in another country. However, studying in a different country is an incredible experience, and only the bravest people make the decision to do so. I believe that with proper planning ahead, the process of leaving home and beginning the amazing experience of studying abroad can be made simpler — and even become enjoyable! To help those of you who are international students make your experience wonderful, I have created a “survival guide”, divided into a mini series of posts, in hopes that my own experiences will assist in seeing you successfully jump-start your new life here in Toronto. Besides reading on, you should also check out York International, which can help you with many of your questions before and after arriving at York.
In this first post I’ll talk about necessary preparations while you are still at home. In the coming weeks you’ll hear about typical first days in Toronto, exploring the city, finding your way around campus and getting ready for classes. So stay tuned!
The first thing that you want to have ready is your documents. You should have your passport valid and good to go, your student visa in your passport and the letter from the Government of Canada inviting you to attend university at York. These documents make it possible for you to receive your student permit at the airport, and missing any of them can make your experience seriously unenjoyable and delay your arrival in Toronto. So much so, in fact, that you might miss the start of your classes, which could mean wasting time and money and having to catch up a lot later. So: recognize that getting your paperwork in order can take time and do not leave it to the last minute.
Accommodation and Arrival
As soon as you have your documents set to go, you should start to think about arranging for your accommodation. If you plan to live on campus, you will have to apply for residence with Housing Services. There are deadlines involved! If you prefer to live off campus on your own, you should start looking for apartments near campus and pre-arrange a rental, as places get rented out pretty quickly. During your first year, I think it is better to live in residence to get used to the campus and to make friends. You can move off campus in your second year to become a bit more independent. If you want to gain some insight into what living in residence looks like, check out my colleague Sam’s post on residence life. If you are more interested in living off campus, there is an older but still useful post on the YUBlog about it.
If you will be travelling to Canada alone, you should arrange your way to campus from wherever you arrive in Toronto. You can use public transport, go by taxi or make use of York International’s Student Greeting Service. If you decide to go for the latter option, students from York University will welcome you at the airport and direct you to your private transportation booked by York, which will take you directly to campus safe and sound.
You may also want to have everything paid and confirmed with York University before you leave home. This includes tuition fees, residence fees (if applicable), meal plan (if you plan on living in residence), health-care insurance, etc. While these fees can be paid at the beginning of the school year in September, in my opinion it is better to have all money matters sorted out before your arrival in Toronto. This is because during your first days you will probably want to settle in, enjoy yourself and discover campus and the city without worrying about things that can easily be taken care of in advance. My colleague Megan has written about money matters for international students, as well as about basic information concerning finances and budgeting. Feel free to give her posts a read.
Fancy making new friends early and connecting with other people like you? Take advantage of York University’s social media channels to be in touch with University staff or other students. York University provides Facebook groups assigned to your specific year (e.g. Accepted-York University Class of 2020 or #GL2020: Glendon, classe de 2020) or your cohort, like the YorkU International Students group. You can also find a general York University page on Facebook and Twitter, or read the student blogs at Glendon and of course right here on the YUBlog. These groups will allow you to meet new people and ask all the questions you might have about student life, money matters or anything else that concerns you.
Something I would highly recommend based on my own experience is to start packing at least two weeks prior to travelling. Why? Because you will probably change your mind a million times about what to bring and what to leave at home. For example, as a musician, I tend to bring with me the majority of my instruments wherever I go, so I was struggling to decide whether to bring my guitar or not. As you may know, sometimes guitars are considered excess baggage, meaning you might have to pay extra to carry them with you on the plane. You don’t want to have that kind of problem the night before you leave for Toronto.
Also, don’t overpack. As an international student leaving home for a long time, you might be tempted to bring the most you can. But it is important to focus on the essentials first. You might want to bring an adapter for your electronics if you are coming from Europe or Asia, for example, as the plug socket is different here in Canada. This next essential item will be your lifesaver: if you have time in advance, make sure buy a good and warm winter coat. Winters in Canada are known as some of the coldest in the world; sometimes the temperature may drop to -40 degrees Celsius, so having a nice, cosy winter coat will help you survive the challenging Canadian winters. Remember that at some point during the following four years you will likely be able to go back home and bring back to Canada some extra things that you left there. So on your first trip to Toronto, focus on the things you absolutely need, and only throw in a couple of other clothes or cherished objects if you have extra space in your luggage.
So, do you feel less concerned now and ready to go? Do you have any tips or experiences of your own to share? Let me know in the comments, tweet me at @yorkustudents with the #YUBlog and we’ll talk more soon.