An international student looking at a mural at UBC
September 22, 2022
2 mins read

What it's like moving to Vancouver from abroad

Whether you’re coming from across the ocean or the border, moving to Vancouver for university can be a big change.

When I transferred to UBC, I had already experienced being a university student in North America—but had to do it all over again in this new place (and climate). The initial days were full of mixed emotions that were basically culture shock—the feeling of being disoriented by your new surroundings.

Here are a few things that were part of my cultural transition (and maybe yours too), and the steps I took to respond to them:

Tackling homesickness

Home is often just a feeling, but who can deny the perks of not having to adult full time. As the excitement of the first couple weeks settled into quizzes and cold weather, I started feeling anxious. Things were not going the way I thought they were supposed to. I had not expected classes to be so rigorous and that there would be so many people at UBC. This is when the honeymoon period ends and you have to pull up your socks and take steps to ease your transition.

This could mean using personal items from home to create a sense of familiarity in your new home. For me, the combination of fairy lights, my blanket from home, and cooking up my mom’s lentil soup recipe did the trick.

Navigating transit

There wasn’t much of a public transport culture back home. But given the expanse of Vancouver, I was suddenly taking lots of buses and skytrains. This came with a whole lot of info on how to ride as an ideal passenger. For example, thank your bus driver when you get off the bus, don’t block the entrance of the vehicle, and take your backpack off to make more room for passengers.

When it comes to getting around the city, knowledge is power so explore the Translink website's downloadable maps. The more you know, the less likely you’ll get lost.

Encountering diversity

Diversity and multiculturalism may be new to you when you come to Vancouver. My first class at UBC was an Anthropology class where the professor used the theme: every culture has something to say, every culture deserves to be heard. I went through the year with this ringing in my ears and made friends with people from around the world. This often meant asking them questions about their home country and answering their questions about mine—which led to some great conversations and learning!

I also made it a point to get involved in globally-oriented activities at spaces like the Global Lounge, where intercultural understanding is encouraged. Doing so not only exposed me to different cultures, but also allowed me to introspectively critique my own identity to better understand it. Additionally, I made sure to interact with as many people who were fluent in the English language as possible, as a way to help me practice speaking English.

Remember to embrace your new city with an open mind and curiosity. As an international student at UBC, you’re not alone and will soon make UBC your home away from home!

I'll end with a final fun fact—the term "culture shock" was actually born in Vancouver when UBC alum Kalervo Oberg traveled to Alaska for research!