Journey of an International Student (Part Two): “The Heart Is Not A Lonely Hunter”

Journey of an International Student (Part Two): “The Heart Is Not A Lonely Hunter”

by Shamim Ahmed 

In our ‘Journey of an International Student’ series, Shamim shares his experiences and journey as an international student parent at the University of Toronto. This thoughtful monthly series aims to highlight experiences of international student parents, find connections in our community, and uplift voices of others. If you have story or idea for our Redefining Traditional community, you can submit it here! 

This week’s snowfall* was quite unprecedented. I was not expecting a heavy snowfall on the first day of November; not at least from my experience of living in Toronto for the last four years. Snowfall was heaviest when I came to Toronto in 2016. I remember our most adventurous journey to this city was then to visit the Queen’s Park, a 10-minute walk from our home. The park was full of snow. When we entered the field, it felt like we were about to drown into a rough white sea! It is such a fond memory. However, I think, snowfall gradually decreased in the following years. Is climate change started impacting the urban cities too? Maybe. There is no chance that we ignore or deny the effects of climate change on our beloved habitat. It’s true and it’s happening.  

Shamim standing in a park filled with freshly fallen snow.
Queens Park, December 2016 

The Joy of Being Healthy  

We came to the city at a time when everything was on the verge of a holiday. People were waiting for the holiday vacation, to go back to their home and meet their family and friends. On the contrary, we left our home but were looking for a new journey, a new home. I was worried that we did not have health insurance yet. The winter was brutal that year, and I could not risk us being exposed to cold and fever and not being covered by an insurance. We did not have any health insurance back at home too. But there, people mostly go to government health facilities, pay a minimum fee and get health services. For advanced and better treatment, we could go to the private hospitals and pay out of pocket cost.  

However, cost of hospitalization, medical treatment etc. are way too expensive in Canada when you are first arriving, something that we could not pay very easily. Therefore, I was really worried about the health insurance, and wanted to have one. Thankfully, even before we reached Toronto, I had started the discussion with the Centre for International Experience (CIE) (, and they guided me through this process. I made an appointment to meet them and got my University Health Insurance Program (UHIP) within a day. I also bought supplementary insurance for my wife and daughter so that we could enjoy our holidays without much worry. If you are an international student coming to Toronto soon, please make sure to keep an eye on the available health insurance programs. As you know the old good saying, it’s better safe than sorry!

Here is a link for you to start with if you are a UofT student: Be sure to check at your institution if there are places to help you through this process, where ever you might be!  

Working as a Part-time Student  

After receiving our health insurance cards, we were sort of relieved and could move around more freely. I decided to apply for my Social Insurance Number (SIN) as I had already been offered a teaching assistant position at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Without a SIN number, no one can work legally in Toronto. Therefore, it was important to have a SIN number. The process was simple. I went to the nearest Service Canada office at the Nathan Philips square with all required documents – my admission letter, valid travel document, job offer etc., filled in the application form and received my SIN number promptly. The official letter came after a week or so, but I could use the number almost immediately. My wife was still on dependent VISA, and therefore she applied for a work permit at the same time. She wanted to work and getting a work permit was the first thing to do.  

We used to hang out at the Nathan Philips Square very often during our first few months in Toronto. It is a nice place; everyone loves to take a photo in front of the #Toronto sign and skate during the winter months. It is located right in front of the City Hall and around the corner of the popular shopping place – the Eaton Centre. There are many restaurants and iconic landmarks around, therefore, the Nathan Philips Square is a perfect hang out place for the newcomers in Toronto.  

Shamim and his family standing in front of a large and brightly lit Toronto sign, with the cityscape in the background and holiday lights twinkling. There are lots of people ice skating around them.
My daughter and wife at the Nathan Philips Square

Finding a School for our Little One!  

Our next challenge was to find a school for our daughter and get her admitted there. Before coming to Toronto, we came to know that most of the residents of University of Toronto Family Housing (where we live!) sent their kids to the Jesse Ketchum Public School (Did you know that the famous Canadian actor Keanu Reeves was a student at this school?). It’s the nearest school and Toronto District School Board (TDSB) generally admits students to the school nearest to their home address. We went to the school on the third week of December and had been told to visit TDSB office for written permission. The school can directly admit a local student but students with VISA status must get admitted through TDSB. So, we visited TDSB and they collected all required documents and told us that the letter will be issued after the winter vacation. Therefore, my daughter got stuck at home for few more weeks, as she could not start school without the letter. It was a bit frustrating for us, but we realized all required process needs to be completed in a timely manner. That’s why my advice for international students with a child would be to start the process immediately as it takes some time. You can visit TDSB website for more information:  

Shamim and his daughter standing infront of her new school, with snow and flurries surrounding them and the school in the background.
In front of my daughter’s school 

Que Sera Sera (What will be…)

We were happy. Happy that we moved to a beautiful country as a family. We could make some progress to start off our new journey in Toronto. We were excited to celebrate the new year, going to school and start working in the new year. That story folks, coming on your way next month. Till then, brace yourself and enjoy the fall with a glimpse of snowfall!   

*November 2nd, 2020

**The title is inspired by Carson McCuller’s famous novel – The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter 

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