Leaving home and moving to university is highly anticipated. We think about this moment for months, years even‚ and imagine what it will be like. We pack our best outfits and shop for room décor, convincing ourselves that this is just another part of our journey. Although this is true, no amount of self-motivation can really prepare you for leaving home and living abroad. But once life in your new home begins to flow, you find yourself engulfed in this new world you’ve built yourself. I think in terms of mental health, the hardest part is not at the beginning of this new change, but rather near the middle, if not the end of the semester. Once the schoolwork starts to really pile, the homesickness starts to kick in, and you seriously start to ask yourself if you’re in the right place.
The thing about being an international student is that we don’t have the comfort of having a place we call “home” to return to every night. While trying to find the best in our living situations, it is not the same as having a comforting, accustomed home. And so, we must find comfort in other places, most of the time with the people we choose to befriend. Which is why it is essential—for an international student at least—to find a safe and trustworthy group of friends. Without that support system, life can feel very lonely very quickly.
Alongside this, who we choose to surround ourselves with is just as important. Everyone has different programs and different interests, and with that come different workloads and different priorities. Another challenge is staying focused on your own academic goals while also maintaining a healthy balance, which is why it’s important to surround yourself with people that will not only support you, but also push you to achieve your highest level of success.
Finally—and I think a lot of international students can relate to me saying this—the most straining aspect of university on our mental health is the pressure to succeed. By this, I mean the financial pressure that is directly connected to our studies. I know this might seem like news to some, but international students pay almost 20 thousand more dollars than domestic students in Canada. Many are lucky enough to get scholarships, but others are not. And the weight that bears on our mental health is quite catastrophic. This is when the pressure to do well often creeps in. When exams are just around the corner, the expectations we put on ourselves push us to a dark place, leading us to believe that if we fail, we’re letting down our families, who are already sacrificing so much to send us here. For many of us, retaking a course is simply not an option, and we only get one shot of doing well. That pressure alone weighs us down.
If there is anything that I’ve learned from my experience, it is to surround yourself with good people. We all have our own baggage, and we’re all struggling in some form or another. Having people that you can lean on and simply relate to takes a major weight off our shoulders. And most importantly, at the end of the day, the priority is you. If you need to, take a break for yourself so that you can focus on your own goals, your own joys, and your own peace of mind. And if you need support doing so, there is no shame in asking for help.