Long story short: Being an international student isn’t easy, but I have some advice

“We provide an incredible injection of languages, personalities, customs, art, food, and music from around the world.”

Image credit Tiffany Chan

By: Ali Najaf 

Four years ago, I packed my bags and travelled more than 10,000 kilometers from my home in Pakistan to study at Simon Fraser University. My experiences as an international student have been incredible. I’ve formed close relationships with people from all over the world, learned about their cultures, and become a mentor for other international students. These are all things I had never done back home, and may never have had the chance to do in such a meaningful way until I arrived here.

Throughout my time at SFU, I got the opportunity to make the most of my experience and have tried my best to get involved, give back to the community and help my fellow students grow. I got a chance to be elected to SFU Senate, have worked as a team leader for the International Mentorship program, and have worked as community advisor at SFU Residence for three years, helping other students integrate into the community.

But it’s been a long road. Before coming to Canada, I had spent eight years in boarding school, and I was still totally nervous; not only about going to a different country, but also to a different culture and society. Although my family was confident that I would quickly adjust to the new environment, I was far from reassured. This was also the first time I was travelling alone. I still remember the first time I ever used public transport, and it took me three hours to find my way back home.

One of the biggest challenges I faced in Canada was integration into the wider community and navigating the different teaching style. At the beginning, some of the biggest challenges were the bell curve, the big class sizes, and the fact that material was delivered in a different language. Support from programs like student orientations, academic and personal counselling, and educational events helped overcome these challenges. If you’re an international student, I recommend these resources as well. Never being too shy to ask questions has also played a big role in adjusting me to the academic life in Canada.


My advice for international students:


  • People are always ready to help, and there is a great support system in the university and community. It’s on us to see how we can make the most of it.
  • Always take initiative and approach the available resources when you are uncertain.
  • Remember to give back to the community and provide support in the same way that you received it.
  • Get involved in student clubs, as it’s a great way for you to build your resume and engage in peer-to-peer learning, which will further develop great friendships.
  • Remember that it will take time to finish the degree. There will be some highs and lows but make your experience memorable by getting involved and giving back to the community.


I believe that international students like me not only contribute to the cultural and social growth of the universities we attend, but also the communities we join as a whole. We provide an incredible injection of languages, personalities, customs, art, food, and music from around the world. International students enrich the educational experience of Canadian students in elementary schools, high schools, universities, and colleges. We create a global village in Vancouver in which all students, Canadian and international, can have a taste of the multicultural climate we will face as tomorrow’s leaders.