The rollercoaster of being an international student

International students are thriving in the midst of adversity.

Montreal is known for being one of the best student cities in North America. With its beautiful diversity, universities in both English and French and a vibrant environment, students from around the world often decide to move to Canada. However, how far is reality from the outside picture? 

Many international students have struggled to secure affordable student housing while still in their country. Some got lucky and found a room in the on-campus student residence, but those on the waiting list who never got a spot had to quickly find an alternative before they arrived. With the rent increase, students are left with the option of either living in a neighborhood that requires over an hour of commute to class or squeezing in with strangers in a small apartment close to campus.

“It was very difficult to find a place to rent because many scammers on Facebook groups were advertising fake houses”, says Haeri Jang, an international student from South Korea. Students from abroad have been scapegoated for housing shortage for the longest time. 

Universities should be mindful of the international students’ residency before giving admissions to thousands. For example, Concordia University collaborated with three off-campus student residencies, YWCA, EVO and Campus1 MTL, to ensure that as many Concordia students as possible have a place to stay.

Another issue that international students face is the increase in tuition fees. The Quebec fees have increased by 3 per cent compared to 2022. International students are charged over thrice the fee Canadians and permanent residents pay per semester. The fees that international students pay consist of the Quebec rate, the international supplement and a 10 per cent international supplement. Concordia University offers scholarships and bursaries to help international students fund their studies. Students can also apply for scholarships funded by EduCanada through their website.

Having started my journey at Concordia University as an international student in 2019, I can confidently say that Concordia has given me all the tools I needed to navigate through the semester and my personal life. The service that has been the most beneficial to me is counseling. I have had eight consecutive sessions with one of the psychologists at Concordia to help me with social anxiety and I have learned many strategies to cope with anxious feelings.

I lived most of my life in Nigeria and Lebanon, and I remember constantly feeling agitated because I always thought my future was doomed. Ever since my move to Canada, the endless opportunities that have presented to myself have truly helped me truly pushed me out of my comfort zone. As a result, my confidence in social situations has improved tremendously.

The path of leaving your country of origin is complex, and it comes with many tears, losses, pain and sacrifices. In the long term, I firmly believe that it will be worth it because we are now given the opportunity to grow in ways we didn’t have back home. 

One of the main struggles that international students face when living in a bilingual city is being unable to communicate in French. This also raises the question of whether they are willing to work in Quebec after graduating since French is mandatory. 

Steven Ye, majoring in political science, says that he is currently learning French alone, and he has been getting some help from his French friends. Ye is presently applying to part-time jobs and hopes to get one in an anglophone area.

International students at Concordia have access to all services offered by the International Student Office (ISO) in the GM building downtown. Some of the services are getting legal advice, renewing CAQ and study permits, orientations and workshops on immigration. 

Aimee Becerril, a studio art student from Mexico, says that the ISO and the John Molson International Committee in John Molson have been the most helpful. The conference held by the JIC helped Becerril learn how to open a bank account, use the STM and gain money management tips, especially regarding grocery shopping.

Studying abroad sounds like a dream to many. The journey starts by feeling homesick, scared, and confused. Then, it continues with questioning our identity and sense of belonging. Finally, after years of going through a series of culture shock, language barriers, and evolving in a new environment, international students will later realize that they are stronger than they think and have what it takes to overcome any obstacle.

Student Life

Mim meets Montreal

Episode 1: In which the Aussie experiences love at first bite

Poutine fosters friendships. Or, at least, it did for me – a freshly arrived exchange student from Australia. One of my first interactions at Concordia went something like this:
“So, have you tried poutine yet?”
“What! You haven’t truly lived the French-Canadian experience until you’ve had a poutine! We must take you to La Banquise.”
I admit, when I found out exactly what this food was I regretted revealing my poutine virginity. For a self-confessed health freak and gym junkie such as myself, poutine, AKA deep-fried potato smothered in oily gravy and topped with a mountain of cheese curds, was suicide on a plate.
However, when I walked down Rachel St. on a grey and icy Saturday evening and saw the inviting bright yellow exterior of La Banquise, I warmed to the idea. A queue of umbrellas extended around the corner. If people were waiting in the wind and rain – and notably with smiles and eagerness spread across their faces – surely poutine must be to die for.
People greeted trusty friends who had nabbed a spot in the line; families waited with impatient children. Others, simply craving a poutine, pushed through to get theirs take-away. My friends told me that La Banquise, open 24/7, is a popular destination for those on a drunken night out, perfect for a midnight snack. I secretly hoped I wouldn’t like poutine because my apartment was only an eight-minute walk away…
Once inside I glimpsed a variety of full, glistening plates of poutine decorated with guacamole, bacon, hotdog sausages and more. After seeing the menu I discovered that there were more than 30 types to choose from, but I knew that my first poutine had to be the original, “La Classique.”
Not long after, it arrived. Despite looking like glorified fast-food, the plate of poutine before me somehow conjured a golden, ethereal glow. Though perhaps it was my excitement – the prospect of abandoning my lame-arse diet for one rebellious evening – that distorted my perception. Within moments of taking my first bite I knew there was no turning back – it was dangerously delicious.
Once I’d proudly finished my poutine I thought, was that just the entrée? Despite being a four-foot-eleven girl, I have the appetite of a teenage boy. I looked at my friends’ unfinished plates and considered polishing theirs off too.
Poutine: I had never experienced anything like it in my life. In fact, I was so absorbed in every mouthful that I missed half of my friends’ conversations. I tuned in when I heard “pouding chômeur…a dessert crossed between a pudding and cake,” and “sucre à la crème,” other French-Canadian specialities. As I curiously think what my next fine dining experience will be, I wonder whether my friends have set me on a dangerous new path…

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