By Julia Quynh Noordin
Picture this: you’ve just turned eighteen years old and you are soon moving halfway across the globe to pursue further education. The catch is that you’re going alone, leaving everything you’ve ever known behind. Every year, international students such as myself flock to countries all over the globe for their post-secondary education. Most students have to be wholly independent, dealing with living expenses on top of coping with homesickness.
This year, Montreal was named the sixth best city to live in by QS Best Student Cities. Its position was judged by various factors, such as the quality of universities, the student facilities, its affordability, the diversity of the city, and more. Students study overseas for various reasons such as future employment opportunities, or to gain new experiences. International students also have a chance to gain an understanding of a different culture and grow from the experience.
International student, Thao Uyen Pham, was born in the city of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and she is currently pursuing her post-secondary education at Mission College in Santa Clara, California. She says the language barrier she encounters daily is one of her main challenges. Her first language is Vietnamese, but she is fortunate enough to be able to have entered her program without going through any English as a Second Language classes. Although she is proficient in English, Pham adds that it is still extremely hard for her to communicate well with her professors and peers.
She also says that she experienced a culture shock when she first moved to California. American culture is very different to Vietnamese culture, as Pham expresses: “Without my family by my side, everything was very different from what I had expected America to be like.” Pham is currently living alone, away from her family in Ho Chi Minh.
Pham was attracted to study in America due to its different approach to its educational system. She says that in Vietnam, the educational system takes on more of a theoretical approach compared to America, which focuses more on teaching students practical skills. Many international students often move abroad to experience different styles of education, and doing so gives them the opportunity to see more perspectives of their program.
They also feel the pressure to do well abroad so as to not disappoint their parents, and have to deal with these emotions while continents away from their support system.
Another difficulty Pham encounters is dealing with daily living expenses. Her parents give her money monthly, but she feels a sense of guilt about, and therefore she wants to help out lowering the expenses by earning a scholarship. Studying abroad is costly, so international students always spend their money sparingly, in an effort to not cause any more financial burden. “I feel bad, but as a result, I feel more motivated to do well, and to make my parents proud,” Pham adds. “After I finish my education, I want to find a good job and take good care of my parents, to repay my gratitude for their efforts to provide the best education for me.”
Many international students have trouble adjusting to their new environment. They also feel the pressure to do well abroad so as to not disappoint their parents, and have to deal with these emotions while continents away from their support system. Nonetheless, some parents feel that studying abroad is a great opportunity for their children to develop their character.
Noordin Shah, a Singaporean father whose daughter is currently in her first year at Dawson College, says that he does not have any fears or worries regarding his daughter living alone in Montreal. He has absolute faith in her abilities to take care of herself and views her studies abroad as the perfect opportunity for her to gain independence. “She is growing up, and she has to learn to do everything herself. I would guide her, but not in the sense that I would hold her hand and show her every step of the way,” Shah asserts. “She has to pave her own path.”
Shah says that one of the main reasons that he sent his daughter to study in Montreal is for her to experience a different environment. “Western culture is very different to Asian cultures,” Shah says. “We all have different perspectives and mindsets, so her studies abroad would allow her to be exposed to more viewpoints other than a typical Singaporean one.”
Although international students deal with pressure in every situation, ultimately, their time abroad serves as a memorable experience, as they are challenged to grow by being thrown out of their comfort zone culturally.