Adulthood 101: An international student’s quick tips for living alone

Let one student’s wisdom save you from some basic blunders

Illustration credit, Tiffany Chan

By: Karina Danielle Lim de León, SFU Student

I moved away from my home in the Philippines when I was just 17 as an international student. Transitioning into both an independent lifestyle and a different cultural environment was a tumultuous and struggle-laden journey. Facing cold weather, deciphering Canadian slang, navigating the public transit system, filing my taxes on my own . . . there were many facets of my new life I needed to figure out how to manage. 

My biggest challenge was the daily maintenance and organization of an adult life — keeping my kitchen reasonably clean, doing laundry, paying bills on time, and financial planning (AKA not spending the majority of my paycheck on vodka crans at Fortune or on concert tickets). Here are some adulting lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Groceries: get them delivered. This was a game-changer for me — for the first two years of my college life, I commuted for 40 minutes both ways to get to the nearest Safeway. I eventually caved into using the “Asian grandma grocery cart” to make these trips easier. Weekly grocery trips, without a parent to drive me, was exhausting, so I started using Instacart to get my groceries delivered. It’s amazing-I pay a few extra dollars, do all my shopping online, and the next day my groceries are right at my door. Long gone were my days of hoping my rotisserie chicken didn’t tear a hole through the plastic bag on the 95. Thank goodness. 

Dishes: do them ASAP. Pretty basic advice, but if you have a full schedule of classes and a part-time or full-time job, they pile up real fast. If you can’t get to them the day of, rinse them off at least to save your future self the time it would have taken to scrub off that dried sriracha. Plus, if you have a roommate, this is just good manners. 

Laundry: do it strategically. I could never find a day in my week to block off a couple of hours to wash my clothes, sheets, rugs, towels, etc. I found that as the semesters flew by, I only got busier, and despite needing all those things to be clean to use, doing laundry was a burden on my schedule. So I timed doing laundry between other chores like making dinner or cleaning my bathroom.

Clutter: Marie Kondo everything. Let’s face it, there are so many things you have lying around that you don’t need. Dig through your closets, cabinets, drawers, etc. and toss out what you don’t need. The things you can’t use, but someone else may be able to, set aside to donate to a local organization. They may not spark joy for you, but they could be necessities for others. Big Brother Vancouver has a free pick-up service for donations, saving you the hassle of dropping off garbage bags of old-you clothes, and helps out a great cause.

Money I: keep track. We can all agree that Vancouver is an expensive city. No one wants to go through their monthly expenses, but when you’re saving up for that Asia backpacking trip or want to be a generally better spender, it does help to be aware of how much you’re spending and on what. I use an app called Koho that helps me manage my monthly budget so I spend mindfully. It has these cool features too like “RoundUps” that round up your expenses to the nearest dollar or ten, and moves this to a piggy bank of savings that you can cash out any time. There are tons of apps, or even a simple Google Sheet, that can help you lay out your spending habits and budget efficiently. Set budgets for things like groceries, entertainment, etc. I even narrowed down my budgets based on my frequent purchases like bubble tea and Starbucks coffees.

Money II: use deals. I love deals – I’m that crazy deal kind of girl who has all the apps like Groupon, Honey, and Mobile Bandit. Sometimes the money I save using these apps is just a few bucks, but some deals can save you a significant amount of cash, and if you don’t have a ton of disposable income, that’s extra funds to use on other things. Lots of popular food delivery/pick-up apps like UberEats, Ritual, Skip the Dishes, and DoorDash have $10 sign-up specials too that are convenient for lazy days in. Extra pro tip: birthday deals are a big thing too. Visit Sephora and Starbucks for free treats on your special day.

Weekly planning: use a damn calendar. I would be lost without my calendar to plan out my work shifts, classes, and time for other activities during the week. My manager once told me that during a job interview, if the candidate didn’t mention using a calendar or to-do list she would feel doubtful about their organization skills. It’s a great way to plan ahead and make sure you have time set aside for the necessary commitments, as well as planning your leisure activities without double-booking yourself or rushing around to get to your next appointment.

Learning how to take care of yourself as an adult, or maintain your home if you live alone, is a challenge for both domestic and international students and is easy to leave on the back-burner in sight of impending school deadlines or work commitments. Despite life being busy and student responsibilities increasing the further you delve into your program, remember to always take care of yourself. Schedule some me-time, make sure you get your eight hours of sleep, and prioritize your well-being just as much as your tangible adult responsibilities.