Dealing with the Pressures of University: From the East to West

The challenges of going to school after moving across the world
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Published on Mar 13, 2024
books and a graduation cap sitting on a Canadian flag
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I was born in Canada, and after spending a good few of my formative years in the West, we went back to our homeland, that is Pakistan. In September of this past year, however, my family pulled a ‘return to sender’ and made the move back to Canada a few weeks after my birthday; it wasn’t a sudden move or anything, in fact we had been planning to move since the end of 2022. After packing up, selling and leasing my father’s property in his absence (he works abroad), and a few tearful goodbyes, we made the move. You must have heard the term ‘culture shock’ being thrown around in conversations regarding moving, but I never paid much heed to it as I was blessed with the opportunity of gaining fluency in the English language, obtaining British-patterned education, and of course, being born with a Canadian passport. I felt that the transfer from a Pakistani high school to a Canadian university would be a breeze for me; I was outstandingly incorrect.

Before travelling to Canada, I passed my final exams with flying colours, got into one of my (Canadian) dream universities, and made a couple of friends with people who were going to the same university as I was going to online; I was determined to take on this entirely new experience. What I did not account for was the fact that new experiences tend to come along with new challenges. The first challenge was a bit of a rare one for the average university student, and that challenge was dealing with a curfew set by my parents. Nothing I haven’t dealt with before, I had a curfew back in high school as well, but what was different back then was that everyone went home at 2 PM whereas now everyone can stay on campus as long as they’d like, except me. I’m definitely grateful that I get to live with family and get home-cooked meals, which most university students long for, but I’m still missing out on friendships, events, parties - pretty much the entire university experience. I didn’t have time in the day with classes to manage, and before the evening, I’d go to the gym to better my lifestyle (and it’s been going pretty well). I was the outlier in my friend groups; everyone would try and make time for me, but they had classes too and it was just too difficult to scrounge for chances to hang out. That was only hurdle number one, though, which I jumped over soon enough.

The real problem was the outline of courses. Back home in Pakistan, we’d have tests, practice exams, and mocks, but in the end, the final exam was 100% of the grade. Over here, a myriad of different types of mini-tests, some big tests, all that add miniscule-to-medium percentages to the total. Deadlines, deadlines and deadlines; that’s what I was struggling with. In the first semester, it was all just too overbearing for me, and my GPA took the largest dip I’ve ever seen. I was feeling depressed with the absence of the university experience and the constant tug-of-war with my grades. On top of all this, I didn’t have my friends back home anymore, so I didn’t have a shoulder to cry on. Even though I was living with extended family, I felt alone.

With the new winter semester, I’ve decided to prioritise my grades while also combining experiences such as going to the gym with friends so that I can better my physical health while hanging out. It’s not ideal, but I also realise that the opportunity I’ve been given to study abroad, get a worthwhile degree and make a better future for myself, does not come easy for many; I’m going to make sure I make the best of it and sure, I don’t have the average university experience, but I know that I have friends. I also have things to look up to, such as seeing my mother again and going back home. Coming here definitely proved to be a huge culture shock, but I know crying and giving up won’t do me any good.

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