Journey of an International Student (Part Four): “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going”

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! 

International students have their own challenges of coming to a new place – but this has some excitements too. Meeting new people, visiting new places, exploring new cultures and knowing a different society have some unique charms of its own. Despite this, it’s important to keep thinking about how we are involved in our academics, and this requires a lot of attention and care for domestic and international students alike. This might look differently for many of us right now as we enter into 2021, but I believe that these elements are still very much important in our education and experiences as students at UofT. Here are a few of my experiences that I hope are helpful for you, along with some resources!

Shamim standing in front of a colourful mural in downtown Toronto.
Photo: Visiting new places to know about the new culture is important

The Power of Language in Higher Education

A major challenge that international students face is the language. Along with verbal communication, academic English requires some standard that needs to be followed and sometimes takes a bit to learn the particulars. There are some excellent resources available on campus for students to improve their language competences to exceed in their studies, such as courses available for both speaking and writing English throughout the year. Apart from that, there are professionals who can meet with students to discuss about their writing in person (or virtually in light to today’s world). Through support, we don’t feel quite as alone and can get a different perspective or approach on the work that we do. It is absolutely okay not to be a master of a second language. But as international students, we need to put effort in a strategic way to overcome this.  

Building Relationships

Making new friends is another great way to learn a new language – we can only learn so much by reading books! Therefore, meeting friends (this can be done virtually!) and spending time with them help to learn those specific skills. It can be done informally, or it is also okay to tell someone about your interest to learn about the language. People are generally helpful and when they know what you need, they can plan for it too.  

Shamim standing with a group of fellow UofT students outside (pre-2020)
Photo: Meeting new friends and taking new challenges help international students to prosper. This photo was taken at Emory University, USA during a Global Case Competition that the writer and other students of UofT participated and became 2nd among 24 international teams and the winner by popular votes. 

 Another new thing for international students is to find a supervisor or professor (depending on your degree) that you can communicate and keep connected with. It may not feel the same as you have done throughout your life. So, I think it is important to be patient and give some time to learn and observe how it works. I have also done that. I spent a few months to understand the culture in my school to know more about how supervisor-student relationship works. Everyone is unique, therefore, there is no single way of communication that might work for everyone. With a bit of patience, it seems to work in most cases! It is also important to be clear in someone’s communication. Supervisors and professors have their priorities where they might be speaking to more than one or two students and keep busy with teaching and research. Therefore, it is important that the students communicate with their supervisors clearly about their expectation. Setting up a timeline to speak or meet for at least a semester in advance is a good idea. Putting dates in the calendar will help both the student and their supervisor to prepare adequately. I find this especially valuable as a student parent that has many timelines going on at once!

Thinking Ahead

As I mentioned earlier there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy. I also want to acknowledge that in these times, there might be a few extra steps to make sure that you can connect safely or virtually with these areas in Higher Education that are so important to us! If you face any sort of academic challenges as an international student, it is wise to speak to someone. There are experts in the campus who can support you with specific situations. It is also okay to explore what your department suggests you do. It is good to start the discussion in the early stages of the school year. Here are some resources that might be helpful in these cases, and are available now!:

Provided are a few (of many) resources for International Students that I recommend at UofT – it’s also wise to take a look at what’s available in your department to see what’s available uniquely to your degree!

If you aren’t at the University of Toronto, have no fear! Here are some steps that might be available where you are to find resources uniquely connected to your degree:

  1. See if there is an office or department for international students. They will have access to many resources and opportunities to make sure that you can find connection and support in these times.
  2. Check with your department on any clubs, events, or virtual spaces that your university (or students at your university!) is running. They can also help you find resources for your academics/ tips to make sure you can communicate effectively with the people that can make your University experience enriching.
  3. Check to see if there are is an area in your University that provides resources for student parents. They might be able to connect you with others that know what you’re going through as an international student parent!

As an international graduate student, I also faced some of these challenges. In my case, having clear and direct communication with my supervisor helped me a lot. I realized sometimes misunderstanding happens due to lack of clarity in communication; for failing to express one’s expectations clearly. Sometimes things may not just work between two people. What helps me from feeling frustrated is that every situation has its own solution, and by working together and reaching out we can overcome these obstacles.  

I wish everyone a wonderful beginning of the semester. 

  • Title is based off of a famous quote by Beverly Sills  

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