Christie McLean and the gang at the airport

Living in a (not so) Foreign Land: Adapting to International Student Life in Toronto

by guest blogger Christie McLean

I love airports.

They have this sense of a million stories being written, of old and new merging together, tales of beginnings and endings. Can you find a place more filled with emotion than an airport? Hellos and goodbyes, “see-you-soons” and “see-you-I-don’t-know-whens.”

Since 2011, the City of Toronto and Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) have partnered with post-secondary institutions across Ontario as well as the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, to greet new incoming international students and provide them with assistance and information at two welcome booths at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

This year, the City of Toronto hired 17 Ryerson students to staff this unique program for international students arriving to Pearson Airport, which I’ve had the pleasure of working. These students were hired by the Ryerson International Student Support Office to facilitate smooth arrival of thousands of international students and another Ryerson Student Affairs initiative to support international students. From August 20th to September 15th, students from all Ontario institutions are encouraged to come and meet us. International students arriving to Canada receive a City of Toronto welcome package filled with helpful integration information, can make a phone call to their home country, and have their initial questions answered. The feedback has been great, and my colleagues, several being students that chose to study internationally in Canada themselves, have been able to provide tremendous support to the incoming students. After returning to Canada this summer from a year abroad studying in France, I can attest to just how significant a warm welcome can be.

Stepping off the plane into your new home country can feel quite overwhelming, to say the least, regardless if “home” is temporary or permanent. Most of the time, you have a vision of how you expect the next period of your life to play out. You imagine yourself flourishing, seeing totally fabulous places and meeting new people. And yet, after that first step everything feels different —you can feel totally alone, and the once simple tasks completed easily at home quickly become a struggle (i.e. grocery shopping, laundry, public transit systems?!).

Merging together what I have learned from our new international students paired with my own experience living in a foreign country, I offer a few pieces of advice that I’d recommend not only to students studying internationally, but also to anyone embarking on a new adventure. Here are my tips, especially for those adapting to international student life in Toronto this year.

Take it Easy

First things first: relax. Before you know it, the unusual becomes usual, and all of these new changes will become a part of your routine. We adapt as we learn. When you are feeling like you’re the only person at the intersection at Yonge and Dundas that doesn’t seem to (hastily) know where they’re going, just know there are others in the crowd that are feeling exactly the same way that you are. Before you know it, you’ll be the one stopping a lost stranger on the street to tell them how to find the Southbound subway line.

“Home” Can Be Ever Changing.

Your “home” is not a certain place or person. It’s a feeling. This is a huge lesson that I’ve learned. Home is made up of your belongings, your routine, the unique things that make you comfortable. It can travel with you. It can adapt and is never fixed.

Exploring with Christie


With that being said, Toronto, Ontario, or Canada is the perfect place to fall in love with and create this “adaptable” home. I’ve had the chance to see the city with a somewhat objective view after returning home, and I can truly say it’s like no city I’ve visited. It’s dynamic, multicultural, constantly moving and innovative, and therein lies a feeling that anything is possible. An abundance of free activities, festivals, nightlife, innovation, and just about anything you’re craving to eat are accessible within 10 minutes of wherever you are. If you’re looking for events at Ryerson, keep this page of events bookmarked, and get involved using ConnectRU! Sites like BlogTO and Torontoist can also be a cool way to track what’s buzzing in the city. All in all, Canada has this incredible mix of metropolitan and nature, and there are a ton of secret places to getaway to. Make sure you find a few of them.

Document It

Write; take pictures; blog; create art; make music. Make a record of your experiences in the way that feels natural to you. I can promise you that you’re going to want to remember your days. Whether you were feeling anxious, uncontrollably happy, or frustrated, you will want to document this experience to have something to look back on.

Dive Right In

Say yes to opportunities. Get outside – of your comfort zone, of your apartment, of your city. Explore a new area. Join groups and activities. Ryerson’s very own ISS provides an unparalleled dedication to ensure that students studying internationally know where to go, what to do, and have a great time while doing it. If you haven’t already seen what they have to offer, check out what they’re all about here.

Be Ready

Life becomes more meaningful when you realize you won’t be able to live the same moment twice. Right now, you can only imagine the type of experience you will have. And that’s the thing. Chances are, what you expect won’t actually happen. Instead, it’ll be different and exceedingly better in every way. It starts with you. Say hello to people you don’t know. That’s how you make lifelong friends. Trust that the people you meet will bring you the answers to your questions, your purpose, and your individual journey. And sometimes it’s not the closest people to us, but strangers along the way that bring about the wisest and most profound answers.

If you will only take one piece of advice from me, it’s this: enjoy it. Wherever you’ve found yourself, you’ve arrived there for a reason. Go out and find out what it is. Write your story and make it a beautiful one. Realize that you become a part of someone else’s stories, and they become a part of yours. And we’re all a part of each other’s.