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You’ve made it to Canada, so what’s next? There are several things you should take care of when you arrive, from the mundane to the exciting, and it’s best to get started as soon as possible after arriving.
Here’s a checklist of the basic tasks you’ll face during your first week as a student in Canada.
First thing’s first: drop your bags and start settling in. Once you arrive at your new residence, you can start making it feel like home. Make the bed, hang your clothes up, and make a quick trip to the grocery store or go for for a short walk around the neighbourhood to scope out the local amenities. Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to say hi to your new roommates if you are sharing accommodation. The sooner you put your own stamp on your living space, the sooner you’ll become comfortable in your new home.
Register at your university or college
If you’ve arrived close to the start of term and enrollment is underway, do this first. This is the process of registering yourself as a student – you’ll be given your student ID card and any other relevant information. Your university or college will send you all the information you need for dates and locations for enrollment. Pro-tip: once you have your student card, you can also start enjoying the benefits of student discounts. Many shops (including big high street retailers), restaurants and cafes offer percentage discounts if you can show an official student card, so don’t be afraid to ask – and you’ll definitely want the discount on public transit passes, offered in many of Canada’s cities.
If you have not yet set up a cell (mobile) phone with a local number, now is the time to get connected. Canada has numerous cell providers, and it’s worth researching your options during your first week as a student in Canada. Fortunately, we have an entire guide on choosing a cell plan in Canada.
Larger providers may have booths on campuses during orientation week to target newcomers, but it’s also worth considering the smaller providers for lower prices. In general, the best deals can be found on contracts of two or three years, and may or may not include a device as well as calling minutes and a data plan.
While campuses generally provide internet access in their residences, if you are living off-campus or need to set up an internet contract, do it as early as possible: it can take some days to book an appointment for your connection installation.
Bear in mind that you may need a credit card or credit check in order to set up a phone contract, which brings us neatly on to . . .
Open a bank account
Opening a bank account is second only to getting a cell phone plan in our list because you may need a Canadian phone number in order to open a bank account. There are several large national branches in Canada, and each may seem comparable. However, several offer perks for students so make sure to look around and compare the deals.
Find out about student life
Canada’s universities and colleges treat orientation week as a chance to have fun, to get to know fellow students, and blow off some steam before the hard work begins. Sometimes known as “Frosh Week”, these days before classes start are usually packed with activities, tours, information sessions, and more, so take advantage of the readily-available opportunities to meet people and explore your new surroundings. Your first week as a student in Canada may be include more social than academic activities — embrace it!
Sort out your timetable
Apologies for the distraction from the orientation week activities, but if you haven’t already got your class schedule established, you should probably get on that. Most universities and colleges have online enrollment and publish class descriptions so you can see which classes are of interest to you.
Each class is worth a certain number of credits, and these add up to the total you need in order to graduate. Remember that in order to graduate with a “Major” (specialist subject) and a “Minor” (secondary specialist subject) you’ll probably need a minimum number of credits to qualify. Your first week as a student in Canada may not seem like the time to be worrying about graduation requirements, but it’s important to know the requirements for your program and keep them in mind when registering for classes, so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises later on.
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Get a Social Insurance Number (SIN)
The SIN is your key to various social services in Canada. In particular, it’s essential for getting a job (and filing your taxes) and receiving any benefits you may be entitled to. As a holder of a Canadian study permit, you may work for up to 20 hours per week during semester and more during scheduled breaks. See our page on working while studying for more information.
You can apply for a SIN if your study permit states that you “may accept employment” or “may work” in Canada. To apply, take your study permit and university or college enrolment documents to a Service Canada office (you can also be really prepared and pick up an application form at the airport when you arrive). The SIN is usually issued the same day, and it’s free – but make sure to leave plenty of time for this, as the wait time at Service Canada centres can be lengthy.
Explore orientation week
This goes on the schedule a second time because after waiting at the Service Canada office for several hours, you’ll probably want to relax.
By now you’re probably starting to get settled in properly. Your to-do list may still be several pages long – and expanding – but you’ve got the hang of this. Take a day to tick some little things off your list: unpack, stock up on stationery, and make sure to call home (actually, you probably should have done this already – but there is no harm in calling again).
Get out of the bubble
It’s always good to take a moment to get out of the “campus bubble” during your first week as a student in Canada. As campuses often cram everything into one small part of the city, it’s easy to feel detached from your surroundings. Grab some friends and get out into the local environment: from museums, to hiking, to food, or anything else you can think of, you’re sure to find something exciting.
Tie up loose ends
You have had to get through many tasks during your first week as a student in Canada, all while dealing with the practical and emotional hurdles that come with moving to a new country. You may have intended to get something done on a particular day, but couldn’t get around to it for whatever reason. Or another urgent task came up out of nowhere, such as needing to buy winter clothes. Use today as a day for going over the task list again and seeing what hasn’t yet been resolved — there is bound to be at least one thing left to do.
So you’ve made it through your first week as a student in Canada. Hopefully by now you’ve settled in, made friends, and started discovering the possibilities and excitement of your new life in Canada.
However, homesickness and culture shock are a reality for many international students, and the experience of moving abroad and suddenly immersing yourself in a brand-new lifestyle and environment can be a shock to the system. Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re missing your home and family – everyone goes through this, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
The best way to prepare is to read as much as you can about Canada, and more specifically your destination city, before you get here. You could browse Wikipedia, watch YouTube videos by other newcomers, and read forums to get a feel for what differences you may encounter in Canada. But bear in mind that everyone has their own moments of culture shock, and you’ll soon get used to the little surprises.
If you start to feel homesick or isolated, try to find an activity to distract you, or indulge in something that reminds you of home. Cook your favourite meal, Skype home, read a book in your own language. Or go to the other extreme and try something truly Canadian, like tasting poutine or pancakes with maple syrup, or playing curling (it’s a real sport). Ultimately, homesickness happens to everyone – even Canadians, who may be as far from home as you are (it’s a massive country). Everyone finds their own way to deal with it and enjoy student life, and so will you.
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