Learning as they go

by | Sep 24, 2021 | International, Opinion

After trekking through five countries within 72 hours, Vishwa Panchal arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport to start what she calls her new life.

“I always wanted to come here. It is a dream come true,” Panchal said.

Panchal, an interior design student from India, is one of Humber College’s many international students who arrived in Canada for their fall semester. They are adjusting to a new country, new culture, new school, with little time to make the transition.

“They learn about this new environment as they go,” said Joshua Favaro, Humber College’s manager of international services.

As newcomers integrate into Canadian society, they face unknown social cues and seemingly strange daily practices.

“Adapting to a new lifestyle is simply overwhelming,” said Julian Cortes, a Colombian user experience design student.

For Mary Grace Lao, a Humber College sociology professor, this inner tension and conflict newcomers experience is an inevitable and non-permanent stage known as culture shock.

“The similarities or differences between a newcomer’s native country and Canada determine how challenging this process might be,” Lao said.

While Panchal added the taxes to her purchase when paying for them, Aziza Nurakhunova did not. As a Kazakh graphic design student, she needed time to get used to not knowing how much her purchases would be until checkout.

“In Kazakhstan, the product label price includes taxes; you know how much you are going to pay, here it is always a surprise,” Nurakhunova said.

Newcomers, like them, will feel anxious, disoriented and uncertain while going through this stage. However, for Lao, feeling lonely is the most profound consequence. Easing this process relies on how the newcomer comes to terms with the new environment and embraces the new culture.

By addressing COVID-19 travel requirements, course registration, average living cost, banking, among others, the international centre seeks to support students in their settling process.

This information has been provided in multiple formats from YouTube videos to online workshops, and it is permanently available on the Humber International Centre webpage.

Nurakhunova, who participated in some workshops, said they helped her have a problem-free customs and immigration experience.

Panchal said the instructions were helpful for banking and other transactions.

However, both of them pointed out the lack of information on culture shock.

“It would be helpful to have articles or videos relates to how to get used to the things that are different from other countries,” Nurakhunova said.

At the same time, Panchal emphasized her desire to have information, cultural cues, and Canadian manners, not just information about COVID-19 protocols.

Favaro said a lot of the adapting process comes to the student from experiences. He said it is something they want to develop for the following semesters, based on feedback from the international centre and international students.

While this enforcement is reached, Panchal expects her culture shock experience to last for a while. But she is confident based on the support network of Indian Humber students and relatives in the country.

“Without them, I would be in a totally different position. They have made my days and dream much easier,” Panchal said.