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Diary of an International Student

Diary of an International Student

Are you an international student who’s been struggling to find your place in Canada? Have you been feeling overwhelmed with the changes and have been finding it difficult to adjust?

If so, you’re not alone! Adjusting to change is hard, let alone starting over in a new country.

You’re probably going through different emotions and trying to establish yourself in a place that doesn’t really feel like home. If that’s the case, you’re probably going through stage 2 of your cultural adaptation journey.

Let’s look at these stages in more depth:

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Period

The honeymoon period is sort of like the beginning of any new experience, such as starting a new job or going into a new relationship. You are thrilled about all these exciting changes and are looking at things from a positive lens. You are probably intrigued by both the differences and similarities between the new culture and your home culture and you have lots of interest in learning and motivation to meet new people. You sort of feel like a tourist and can immediately imagine yourself staying here long-term…until stage 2 kicks in.

Stage 2: The Cultural Shock

By now, the excitement would’ve worn off a little and you’re starting to miss your friends and family back home. You’re likely putting a bigger emphasis on the differences between the two cultures and possibly thinking about how much you were taking things for granted when you were still back home. You may be starting to feel irritated and frustrated with having to constantly change your habits to adapt to these new norms. Little do you know, you start to search out your Canadian friends and focus on connecting with people who share the same values, language and probably the same taste in local foods and music. These new friends remind you of home and this becomes your new comfort zone. At least you now have a support system to go back to when you’re out exploring the Canadian context and little do you know, you find yourself in stage 3.

Stage 3: Adjustment  

You’re now pretty familiar with the context and although you may still be experiencing the occasional lows, you’re starting to feel little more hopeful and optimistic. Cultural cues are now easier to read and you’re beginning to feel more integrated into the new environment. You may see your sense of humor slowly return and find yourself enjoying activities outside of your comfort zone. Since you’re now past the “emotional stages” of cultural adjustment, you can now enter a stage of “deeper learning” and enhance your understanding of the world. You may even start to question some assumptions resulting from your own culture and begin to look at things from a new perspective. Next thing you know, you’ve reached the final stage.

Stage 4: Acceptance

Welcome to the final stage where the “new” culture is no longer new but is starting to feel like a second home. You are now focused on reaching your full potential and may be thinking of staying here long-term and planting some roots. You probably don’t want to go back home as much anymore and instead, you’re encouraging those back home to come visit you. You’ve finally reached the stage of biculturalism and have found your place between the two cultures.

A Last Thought

Can I share a piece of advice? Don’t rush it. Try to find meaning in every stage and know that each one has its own time. Be cognizant of the different stages and explore where you locate yourself. Know that if you’re feeling “foreign”, it won’t last forever. There’s probably thousands of other international students walking on this same path trying to find their place. And you will soon find yours.

If you missed this week’s webinar “Stranger In A Strange Land” on integrating in a new culture, make sure to watch the rerun here!

How To Do More In Less Time

How To Do More In Less Time

There’s a principle called Parkinson’s Law that says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Put simply, that means that the more time you give yourself to do something, the longer it will take to get it done.

For example, when you block off a whole weekend to work on a paper, but then find yourself procrastinating like crazy and get almost nothing done? Or when you have a bad date that is goes on forever because you didn’t set a clear ending?

Yeah. Exactly. That’s Parkinson’s Law in action.

But it’s not just papers or dates — it’s everything we do. Whether it’s cleaning, shopping, relaxing, errands or partying, the time each of those tasks takes up way more time than we thought they would. Think about your life and your habits, and consider how much you really get done when you give yourself tons of time. The answer is probably not much.

Here’s a better approach that’s a secret weapon used by the world’s most productive people.

The next time you have to complete a task, put a deadline on it that’s firm and then work backwards using what’s called the Pomodoro Technique.

This approach makes you give yourself only 25-minutes to complete a specific task followed by a 5-minute break. So that’s a cycle of 30-minutes… 25-minutes of work, 5-minute break. Each 30-minute cycle is called a Pomodoro, hence the name.

Once you repeat a Pomodoro four times, take a longer break of up to 30-minutes. Then sit back down and do another round of four Pomodoros, or as many as you need to do to get your work done.

All you have to remember is that one Pomodoro is 25-minutes of working time followed by a 5-minute break. And then after four Pomodoros, take a 30-minute break. Got it? Great.

The key, however, is to be organized and have your work cut into manageable chunks. It’s not like you can write a massive essay in 25-minutes. And I know that breaking up a big project, like a paper or a major research project, down into small pieces doesn’t feel natural. This is especially the case if we feel stressed about it and feel like it’s so big that no matter what we do, we’ll only ever scratch the surface of it. 

That’s not true. Break. It. Down. 

Before you begin your work if you’re using this technique, make a list of the bite-sized tasks that you have to do to write, for example, a paper. Your list might start to look like this: 

  • Pick a topic and narrow it down
  • Draft a clear thesis
  • Look for research to support my thesis from online sources
  • Look for research to support my thesis from journal articles
  • Go back and refine my thesis based on the research reviewed above
  • Outline my three main arguments in a couple sentences each
  • …and so on

Then once you have your list, start at the first item with one Pomodoro. Get it done before 25-minutes is up? Great, move onto the next. If not, let it roll into the next 25-minutes. Make sure that you’re focused during each Pomodoro. Don’t do anything but that one thing. Keep all other distractions at bay.

On a logistical note, there are a ton of apps and tools out there to act as a timer. You can use a timer on your phone. Or you can try PomoDone (which has a free version) or Pomotodo (which is also free for the basic plan). All will work. Just find something that works for you. 

So before you dive back into work, stop everything and give this a shot! It might not feel natural at first, but keep at it. Before you know it, you’ll be a productivity machine.

Oh, and by the way, I wrote this blog in exactly two Pomodoros.

Thanks for Having us, Fleming College!

Thanks for Having us, Fleming College!

The Real Campus team was at Fleming College on November 22 to officially kick off of the Real Campus (or Re:Tour for short).

With a popup beginning in the morning and extending throughout the day, Fleming students were able to submit anonymous responses to question cards and see their answers as well as those from their peers projected throughout the campus. Students frequently stopped to read the texts, oftentimes looking surprised at how heaviness of some responses.

“I am surrounded by so many wonderful people every day and have so much to live for, but I still hate my life and who I am,” looped through the projections–an anonymous text sent by a student earlier that morning.

Students were able to stop by the centralized popup on their way to class to learn more about Real Campus and to sign up. Many were excited to hear about what the availability of Real Campus benefits meant for them.

The first Real Campus Human Library took place that afternoon and featured seven Fleming students who volunteered as “Human Books” to share their personal stories in a one-on-one format with visitors.

Human Book topics ranged from bipolar disorder and addiction recovery to child loss, domestic abuse survival, and body modification. Visitors could select which Human Book they wanted to read and have an open discussion with that person for twenty minutes about their story. Some visitors were pleased to be able to speak with someone who was experiencing a similar struggle to themselves or to hear from someone about a subject they didn’t know much about.

We had a great time at Fleming College and are looking forward to more Re:Tour visits in the new year!

Upcoming Re:Tour stops will be:

  • Centennial College on January 29, 2019
  • Fanshawe College on January 30, 2019
  • St. Clair College on January 31, 2019
  • and more…!

Want to volunteer or share your story at an upcoming spot? Click here to apply

How to Manage Exam Anxiety

How to Manage Exam Anxiety

‘Tis the season! .. and no, I’m not talking about Christmas. It’s EXAM TIME!

But as exam period approaches, our anxiety is escalating. Right? We hear you and more than that, we understand you.

Over the past months, we’ve been in contact with many of you who haven’t been feeling too optimistic. That’s right, if you’re reading this, you are not alone! In fact, we’ve gathered 3 of the most common negative thought patterns experienced by students during exam period.

1. “If I don’t pass this exam, I’ll definitely feel like a failure”
In the therapy world, this is called a cognitive distortion. To put it simply, your mind is playing tricks on you and giving you an “all or nothing” perspective without leaving much room for a grey area allowing for the complexity of most people and most situations.

Our Suggestion? Take a breath, ground yourself and try to locate those shades of grey even if they seem overtaken by the black and white. Work on maintaining realistic expectations and remind yourself that there will always be room for improvement. Ask yourself if you remember that time when you failed an exam in high school. Did it suck back then? Sure. Did it keep you from being where you are today? Probably not. Think that in a few years from now, you’ll look back and this time in your life and realize that it probably wasn’t worth all the anxiety.

2. “If I get a grade lower than x%, then my GPA will be affected, which means that I may or may not graduate, which will  impact my chances to get good job, which will put me in a financial strain meaning that I won’t be able to pay my student loans, etc…”
The classic snowball effect. We’ve all been there. We imagine that our path will be drawn a certain way based on how this one event will go. Read this last sentence again. Doesn’t it sound a little irrational? To think that our whole life is defined by one outcome?

Our Suggestion? Stay specific and start small. Examine the things that you have control over at that moment and search for ways to improve them. Most of the time, the higher percentage of your anxiety is linked to irrational thoughts, aka things that you want to have control over but cannot (i.e. predicting every question in the exam or thinking that your whole life will be impacted if you don’t score a certain grade). In those situations, notice that a lot of your energy is wasted on things you can’t control- which may be why you’re left wondering why you’re feeling so exhausted at the end of the day when you haven’t really done much. Try to identity irrational thoughts so you are better equipped to handle them. Always look for the evidence and compare it to your negative thinking (i.e. what are the clear signs indicating that I will fail this exam?).

3. “School is not looking good for me anyway and my chances of graduating are low so what’s the point of studying?
This is one of the most common thought patterns experienced by all students. It’s easy to get unmotivated when there’s been a build-up of past events that have led to this moment.

Our Suggestion? Remember that it takes less effort to dwell in the negative patterns than to challenge them, so you will be tempted to just give up and you will find yourself in a negative spiral. Rather than just assume the worst, review your academic history and get a rational sense of where you stand today. You might be surprised that it’s not as bad as you had thought. If you’re still feeling pessimistic, reach out for support to get different opinions, whether that’s a therapist or an academic advisor. As hard as it can be, take that step and ask for help!

Building on that last piece of advice, no matter what you’re going through, you don’t have to go through it alone. Whether you’re having doubts about your future, or worried about your level of confidence or just concerned about your overall experience at school, there’s always someone you can reach out to. In fact, that’s what Real Campus is for. Real Campus offers you the chance to book a consult with an academic advisor or to speak to a clinical therapist for unlimited sessions, and all of that is free of cost!

Want support now or in the future? If you’re looking to gain new perspectives and improve your negative thought patterns but feel like you need support with that, we are here to help! There are different ways you can reach us: Chat with us using the chat bubble on the bottom right of this page, click on Get Support Now at the top right or simply call us at 1-877-390-REAL (7325).

Announcing the Real Campus Tour

Announcing the Real Campus Tour

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Real Campus Tour (or Re:Tour for short)! 

Starting this week and stretching into early 2019, the Re:Tour will visit 10 major college and university campuses across Ontario to spark conversations about mental wellness and keep the initiative going by familiarizing students with the many services available to them through Real Campus.

The goal of the Re:Tour is to show that no one is alone in their struggles. Because when we feel less alone, we are more likely to reach out for support — whether that means from a friend, family member, or our team at Real Campus.

So far, we can share that we’ll be visiting Fleming College on November 22, Centennial College on January 29, and Fanshawe College on January 30.

Each stop on the tour will include:

1. Interactive Pop-up
Drawing upon the international success of “What’s Your Big Lie?”, we will be installing an exhibit at each campus for one day that allows students to submit anonymous confessions of how they’re really feeling and doing, creating a powerful ways to see that they’re not alone in the challenges that they may be facing.

2. Human Library
Campus community members who have unique stories they wish to share may do so in one-on-one 20-minute conversations with curious students. No question is off the table. This will broaden students’ understanding of the struggles that those around them also face and that emotional challenges are both common and normal.

3. Other Surprises
We’re working hard to make each event special and unique. Keep an eye open for neat announcements as we get the tour on the road!

Want to know if your campus is on the list and, if so, volunteer to get involved? Send us a note!