Camping trip on Hornby Island, British Columbia. Picture taken by my good friend James.

Thinking of studying in Canada? Here are 8 things you need to know

If you live abroad and consider studying in Canada, this article is made for you !

Oh dear Canada … what’s there NOT to love about you?

This nation is well known for its great outdoors, diversity, kind people and harsh winter conditions that make you enjoy summer time even more. Canada’s economy is strong, politics are relatively stable, the country is safe and there are reputable schools from coast to coast.

Here are 8 facts I wished I had known before coming to Canada as an international student 7 years ago :

1- Pick your school wisely

While it is tempting to pick a school solely based on its international rank for your degree, other factors need to be considered.

Canada’s designated post-secondary education system is mostly standardized across the country. This means that even though course evaluation and content may vary from one university to another (heck, even from one prof to another!), course contents are similar for each disciple so your degree will be valid everywhere around the country.

For this reason, picking a school solely based on how well it ranks in Canada does not mean much. Sure, a higher ranked and older school may come with more “prestige”, but it may not be associated with the type of learning and lifestyles that suits you best.

Hear me out. Smaller universities have advantages, as they offer the opportunity to be more connected to your peers, your professors, and potentially local businesses. It also offers more freedom when you want to kick-start a student club or make changes on campus.

Larger universities may be a good fit if you are seeking to study at an institution outside Canada after an undergraduate degree. The best Canadian University, University of Toronto, ranks 28th worldwide far behind many American or British schools, which is why I strongly encourage you not to overlook other factors when picking a school ! These factors can include the size of the class, the profs’ backgrounds, the available electives for your program, but also importantly the livability of the city and the activities you can do outside of school.

2- Take time out to explore

Canada is a gorgeous country, filled with many different landscapes from ocean coasts to rocky mountains, lakes and crop fields. If you are reading this article, chances are nature is an important aspect of why you choose to study there.

It is easy to forget to take time off to explore once you get caught up in your international student lifestyle. Lack of time, energy and financial resources can be recurring challenges. And time flies ! So make sure you have a list of must-do activities in mind.

Here is a sample of my own ever-growing bucket list to give you some ideas of fun activities Canada has to offer:

  • Camping on the beach
  • Take sailing lessons
  • Skiing in Whistler
  • Swimming in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
  • Encounter with a bear (ok… this one was scary!)
  • Whale watching
  • Watching salmons migrations

I am lucky enough to have done all of them by living in British Columbia for 6 years. Your list will widely differ depending on where you decide you stay. I live in Quebec now, and my list looks a lot more like:

  • Go to a provincial park in the fall months to see the tree color changing
  • Drive up and explore Gaspésie
  • Eat at a Vegan Sugar Shack
  • Visit New York City

Although I have no clue when or if I will be able to live these adventures, I set my intentions and will jump on the opportunity if life ever offers it to me.

3 — Consider joining clubs, applying for internships and co-op programs

Canadian universities have many student associations and clubs you can join. Joining a club is an excellent way to meet local students, create connections and build your skillets portfolio while volunteering your time for a cause you care about. Larger universities will likely have more options to join clubs, but regardless of which university you choose make sure to check what is already available.

During my time as an undergraduate student, I was involved in a group called “Leadership Through Diversity”. I later on decided to restart the “Engineers Without Borders” club that had been inactive for years before, which helped me develop key skills that are useful to me in my everyday work.

Similarly, try to pick a program that supports internships. Completing internships is a great way to assess what you like or dislike in an industry and each experience will stand out in your resumes.

During my internships, I learned that I wasn’t a detail-oriented person, but rather someone who preferred working on the big picture. I also learned that I had difficulties working on 3D modeling, but preferred mathematical modeling. Lastly, I found my passion for zero-emission vehicles. All these items make up the core of my current carrier.

Try to think outside of getting “just” a degree but build a holistic portfolio of skills that will serve you well once you enter the workforce.

4 — Plan your budget wisely

Though Canada is a cheaper option to study compared to the US, Australia and the UK for international students, it is still a pricey commitment if you plan to study there multiple years in a row as a foreigner.

Scholarships for international students are limited, and you can’t get a student loan in Canada unless you are a permanent resident. This is why it is crucial to plan your budget wisely prior to start your studies.

Luckily there are several ways to help finance your education. First, under a student permit, you are allowed to work 20 hours per week on campus. Consider tutoring students in whichever topic interests you. It is a good way to make money, with a flexible schedule and it is a good way to practice topics you have already mastered!

Lastly, some scholarships are available once you start studying, pending that you are able to maintain a high GPA. Contact your international student office for more information.

5 — Canadians are your friends

I tend to notice that international students usually stick with people that are from their country of origin or who speak the same language (I am also guilty of this!). And it is understandable. You are far away from home, surrounded by a new culture and it makes sense to seek what is familiar and comfortable.

Getting out of your comfort zone will open your mind to new possibilities. I strongly encourage you to befriend Canadians. They are awesome ! It may take time to get to know a person with a different culture than yours, but I promise you it is worth it. Due to the fact that I transferred to a Canadian institution in my third year, I had very few interactions with international students at first and a lot more with my local classmates. Thanks to that, I met some of my best friends in the word (who are Canadians) and my English improved very quickly.

A big reason I came to this country was to discover its culture, learn English, and have a blast. There are no better ways than by getting to know the locals !

6 — Winter can be an “adjustment” for some of us

I never got to experience a true Canadian winter before moving to Montréal, but I had heard many stories about the Cold & Never Ending Canadian Winter before.

Beware that it will certainly require some adjustments that may be hard to sustain in the long term for some. You will need to make sure you plan for sufficient funds in your budget to dress according to the freezing cold temperatures.

I used to live on the West Coast and there, winter is well… very wet. It constantly rains. Coming from a very sunny part of the world, it definitely impacted my mood at first and it took time to adapt. One great thing you will notice however is that Canadians never slow down regardless of the winter conditions. In Bristish Columbia, we hike and surf in the rain. In Quebec, we host the Igloofest and other fun winter activities. In the end, summer is never too far around the corner.

7 — For as long as you are a student, you will likely live with roommates

If you live in a major city in Canada, you will find the housing market expensive, even for students. Living on campus is often extremely pricey, and your best option will usually be to find a couple of roommates to share your flat.

Living with roommates is fairly typical even for locals, therefore you will not have a hard time finding other students that are seeking to share a place to reduce costs and make new friends.

8— You are likely going to want to build your post-graduation life in Canada

A recent survey has shown that 6 out of 10 international students will want to remain in Canada and immigrate through permanent residency.

Honestly, I would have never imagined staying in Canada when I first moved there. For me, it was all temporary in order to get an international experience. Seven years later, here I am ! I lived in three different cities, got two degrees, I am about to start my second job and my career is well on its way.

Once you start studying in Canada, it will be up to you to build your network and really make the best out of the opportunities it can offer. Hard work in Canada does pay off, and as long as you are open to stay away from home a little longer, Canada is an excellent choice to build a life.

Mechanical engineer who wants to help the planet. Vegan & international, living in Montreal. Here are things that matter to me. Je suis française !