An international student looking at a mural at UBC
September 17, 2019
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 comes with cultural transition.

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 with your new surroundings.

These feelings came out of the mundane aspects of my new life in Vancouver to more obvious things like missing food from home. 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 to take actual steps to ease your transition.

This could mean using personal items from home to create a sense of familiarity in your new home. You could actually use things you used back there! The perfect combination of fairy lights, my blanket from home, and cooking up my mom’s lentil soup recipe did the trick for me.

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 for printable maps of the transit system or grab a few hard copies from the big buses like 25, 41, and 49. The more you know, the less 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—it 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. Not only did it expose me to different cultures but it allowed me to introspectively critique my own identity to better understand it.

I also made sure to interact with as many people who were fluent in the English language as possible, as a way to help me practice!

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!