In the Know: International Student Experience - Jimena Bisso

UVic Global Community Newsletter: October 31, 2022

In the Know: Advice for international students is a section of the UVic Global Community Newsletter that includes valuable information for undergraduate and graduate international students in the following categories: degree-seekingincoming exchange, and incoming study abroad/visiting.


International Student Experience - Jimena Bisso

Being an international student was not easy for me. I was in my home country Peru thinking that I was going to live in a new country for at least four years, a country where I didn’t know a single person and where everything was new for me. I was afraid of having to leave my family, friends and culture in order to pursue my career. At night, I hesitated and thought: Am I actually making the right decision?

I decided to study in Canada because in 2016 and 2017 I went to a summer camp in Quebec where I made really good friends and had a unique experience. After the summer camp, I visited Victoria and instantly fell in love with the city and the nature that surrounds it. For this reason, I knew that when I finished high school I wanted to live and study there. When the day came I was feeling anxious and terrified of being by myself for the first time, but at the same time excited for entering a new stage in my life.

In my first year, I was not able to live in residence because I applied late. That made me even more afraid as I thought living off campus would make it more difficult to make friends. In order to find a place to live I visited UVic’s Residence Services website and found a few different resources for finding accommodations as well as roommates. I ended up creating a profile on Places4students where I described myself, my background, what I was looking for in a rental, and how much I was willing to pay monthly for a room. A couple of weeks after creating my profile, I was contacted by a few landlords and I ended up choosing to live in a house with exchange students. This was very unexpected but was one of the best things that happened to me as it was also their first time in Canada, so they had lots of energy and excitement to go out and explore.

Before starting classes, my roommates and I visited some really cool places in Victoria. To get to know the city better, we explored downtown and other attractions such as the Parliament Buildings, Craigdarroch Castle, various beaches, and the Royal BC Museum. We also attended many activities at UVic, which helped us feel more comfortable with our new surroundings. Joining campus tours, the International Student Welcome, and other on-campus events helped us start to meet people. Connecting on social media was also very helpful because it allowed us to talk to each other and plan activities together.

By the time classes started, I had already met some people in the previous days and luckily some of them were taking the same classes as me so we made plans to sit together. Making friends in lectures was not easy at first, because everyone just focused on taking notes or paying attention -- which I guess is what we’re supposed to do in class. However, I soon realized that I just needed to say “Hello” to the person sitting next to me and that greeting could end up creating a life-long friendship. Meeting people in class is helpful for various reasons: if you are sick and cannot attend class, you can ask the person to share their notes; you can study together; or you can just have someone to sit with in class.

I also learned that classes are not the only place to make new friends. Joining a club, attending events hosted by the Global Community, talking to people in your dorms, joining an intramural team, going to the gym, or just reaching out to people on Facebook or Instagram, are all great ways to meet people. After my first semester, I already had a big group of friends, who became like my family abroad. We always did fun activities together, studied at the library, and hung around on and off campus. They were my support and they made me happy every day.

Although my friends always had my back, classes felt overwhelming sometimes. Having to study in a new language and in a new system was not easy. My brain was sometimes tired of having to translate the information that came to me and I felt exhausted. Midterms were hard and made me really anxious, because I felt that I needed to learn so much information in such a short period of time. As a Political Science student, I had to write many research papers and I didn’t know how to access peer-reviewed articles or how to cite them. APA, Chicago and MLA were all new for me and I didn’t want to be penalized for inadvertently copying someone else’s work. Unfortunately, at the time I was not aware of the Centre for Academic Communication (CAC) at UVic, which could have helped me with this issue. The CAC is open—online and in person—for support with academic writing. Students can make an appointment to get written feedback on their work or meet with a tutor, and the CAC offers workshops and online self-guided resources as well.

I also missed my family and friends back in Peru.  By the end of the semester I was feeling anxious and stressed. During the exam period, I was so distracted that I mixed up one of my final exam dates and I missed it. For this reason, I reached out to the Student Wellness Centre, and received support from the Counseling and Health Services. I was able to talk to a counselor and a nurse which helped me a lot in this new journey. They listened to my concerns and helped me go through these hard times. The nurse provided me with some pamphlets on strategies to manage stress, such as doing guided meditation, increasing physical activity and good nutrition, practicing deep breathing, managing social media time, and connecting with others. UVic always has lots of resources to support students' mental health, inclusion, and academic success.