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Back-to-school tips for international students and their parents

TORONTO, Ont. – University or college is an exciting, life-changing experience for everyone, but it can be a difficult adjustment for students who plan to attend school abroad.

As a result, Ryerson University has released a series of tips for both students and their parents to help quell some common anxieties and help them make the adjustment to the first year of their studies.

If you’re a student:

  • Before leaving your home country, it is recommended to carry all immigration documents with you when you travel, and ensure they are accurate and valid. Take note of the dates they need to be renewed and plan ahead. It is extremely important to carry copies of medical records as well, including the dates of any immunizations, tests or surgeries. If you have a chronic medical condition, you are advised to get a doctor’s note which gives a short description of your medical history. Also, check ahead to make sure there are no important restrictions on any medications you take.
  • Once you arrive, explore! The best way to learn about your new neighbourhood is to walk through it, choosing a different direction each time and checking out attractions along the way. Public transit is also an affordable option for exploring your new area.
  • The best way to feel at home is to participate in orientation events, where you will meet students who like yourself – may be away from home for the very first time. It’s the best way to learn about services the university or college offers, see what activities and events on campus you can take part in, and make new friends. Keep on top of events the school is holding by checking out social networking sites or flyers on campus. Find people who share your interests or join a group of students from your own religious or cultural background.
  • Do not be too hard on yourself, and anticipate that there will be some culture shock. A new country means a new school system, culture and lifestyle, so it’s natural to feel uncomfortable at first. The best way to deal with those feelings is to embrace the change – make new friends, contact friends and family when you need support, and keep a positive outlook on life. Universities and colleges offer programs to help with the adjustment, or you can visit the school’s international student services office for information on help with adjusting.
  • Most importantly, stay in touch with family and friends from your home country on a regular basis. Using Skype or another Internet service, or simply sending an email can help you feel less homesick. Remember that your parents, other relatives and friends miss you as well and are going through an adjustment themselves. By keeping close ties with people at home, you’re more likely to have an easier and better time getting used to your new life.

If you’re a parent:

  • Having your child study internationally can be as tough on you as it is on them. The most important way to deal with the change is by keeping yourself busy. Finding a new hobby, meeting up with close friends and maintaining a regular exercise routine will help you from thinking about your child’s absence. If you find yourself becoming depressed, speak to a counsellor or therapist. Remind yourself of why you sent your son or daughter to university or college in the first place, and imagine how much more opportunity they will have in the future because of the decision you both have made.
  • Although you may worry and want to contact your child as much as possible, try to maintain some distance. Your child may not want to talk every single day and will not value the communication as much if you speak too often. In some cases, it’s best to wait until the weekend, when your child can give you a week’s-worth of stories and they have more time to do so. Keep in mind that varying time zones may mean you will have to adjust your schedule in order to speak with them. It’s best to arrange regular times which work for both of you, with some flexibility if something should come up for either one of you.
  • When it comes to academics, make sure your child is making an honest effort, but refrain from being too hard on them if their grades aren’t living up to your expectations, or they aren’t studying as much as you wish they were. Adjusting to their new lives can take time and may have an impact on their academic performance for the first little while. Moreover, the curriculum and teaching methods may be very different from what your child is used to at home. If you notice he or she is struggling, be patient, understanding and supportive.
  • Finally, remember that your relationship with your child will grow stronger as a result of this experience. Living away from home in a different country will bring about  independence and maturity, and it’s an excellent way to adjust to adulthood. A happy parent means your child will know you want the best for him or her, and he or she will thank you for it!