When I arrived in Canada two years ago, with brimming suitcases in hand and an entourage of family members pouring in to say their goodbyes, I had little idea how wildly different my life would become in the coming years. As familiarity was gradually replaced by reminiscence, the adult world began to shape itself into an experience best described as bittersweet.
As someone who has been moving countries all my life, it was inevitable that I would end up pursuing an education abroad to start afresh yet again, and immerse myself in a brand new culture. Canada is one of the countries that caught my attention from the very beginning: popular media is brimming with depictions of its exhilarating maritime and mountainous landscapes, and its moose-riding, maple-syrup-chugging populace. When the opportunity to live in this country known for its friendly, polite people presented itself, I did not hesitate to accept the U of T Engineering offer letter and hop on a jet 14,991 kilometers from home.
My hometown Singapore is a tiny city-state in Southeast Asia. The once turbulent country has quickly established itself as a global hub for education, finance, technology, innovation, and trade, in addition to ranking highly on every standard of living index in the world. As such, moving to another metropolitan city like Toronto did not seem like too much of a change from home. However, when I arrived in Canada two years ago, I had no idea how nerve-wracking the experience of moving away from the comfort of home would turn out to be.
The beginning of a college career is always stressful, and comes with a tonne of learning and demanding experiences that shape your personality as you transition into adulthood. This experience is a thousand times more daunting for international students, who have to simultaneously adapt to a brand new country with barely any time to figure things out.
The first blow came when I perched myself upon the 23-hour flight, and the abrupt realization hit me all at once: I would soon be all alone. My parents, who have been incredibly nurturing throughout my childhood, would no longer be there to love and support me. My sister would no longer be the best friend just a room away. The last hug with my family crushed my heart in ways I cannot describe, and moving away from the loving embrace of home made me quickly learn that I was no longer the sheltered cocoon in the nest — there was no longer anyone to cushion the blows.
The whirlwind of emotions I felt in the first week while surrounded by hyped-up Frosh made me feel like I did not belong here. I was an anxious mess, overwhelmed by simple things such as figuring out transportation, groceries, or how to do laundry and cook meals while I had a mound of unfinished homework waiting on the desk. To top it off, it took me a month to finish unpacking my suitcases and setting up my place. In the midst of it all, overcoming my fears about fitting in
seemed impossible: What if I picked the wrong major? What if I did not manage to connect with the people here? What if I could not make any friends?
The fears were understandable, but that did not mean that I would let my anxiety triumph over my goals and aspirations. After a brief period of accepting my fate, I got tired of wallowing in my own self-loathing and took a leap: yes, I joined a club. When I initially saw the columns and columns of reddit armchair advisors talk about how clubs and societies was the easiest way to expose oneself to like-minded people, I initially thought it was just generic meaningless advice.
Taking that leap of faith at a low point slowly but surely began to fill the gap that the lack of support system, such as family and high school friends back home, had provided. As I was patient with my growth and allowed myself to make mistakes over time, I was able to establish routines; tackling life by the day was not so hard anymore.
Of course, the emotional poignancy of starting afresh would always be lurking at the back of my mind, but learning to be comfortable and happy in moments of loneliness and diverting my energy towards academic growth powered me through the tough days.
College is an opportunity for liberation: many people were not as fortunate as I was growing up, and coming here gives them the chance to be exposed to new perspectives and redefine their entire persona if they so desire.
While I was once comfortable in my own space, university has made me a strong proponent of trying new things: whether it be that one food item from a certain cuisine, travelling to the far-flung corners of the country I just moved to, or joining an intense looking design tea. Taking leaps of faith – whether small or huge – and putting myself in situations where I stepped out of my introverted, socially anxious comfort zone was the best way to turn college life into one of the favourite moments of my life.