Shreena is an Environment & Business student in her 2B term. She is also one of the 2019 International Live Chat hosts. Here is what she had to say about her first year at Waterloo.
Why did you choose the University of Waterloo?
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to pursue my tertiary studies in the western part of the world. Having applied to a variety of universities across the country, I decided to choose University of Waterloo because it combined my love for business and environmental issues in a single program.
When you received your offer of admission, how did you celebrate your success?
I was tremendously happy and excited at the sight of my confirmation email. I immediately rushed to my family to announce the good news and we celebrated over a great Mauritian feast.
Before you arrived, what worried you about coming?
I was extremely worried about being able to fit in within the university/Canadian community. I was so stressed about adapting to the people, the language, the school curriculum, weather, and so many other things. One of the ways I overcame my fears was to reach out to resources on campus. Also, networking and meeting new people helped me to feel included in the community. Getting outside of my comfort zone and merely saying “Hello! How’s your day going?” was the first step in making memorable friends and connections.
What did you expect Canada and the University of Waterloo to be like?
My first idea of Canada is related to the cold weather. Before coming, many people scared me about not being able to adapt. But when I arrived, I was truly impressesed by how Canadians effectively deal with winter; from the heated buses to winter clothes, there are lots of ways to stay warm.
Was there anything that surprised you about the University of Waterloo? How so?
I was surprised about how many different opportunities and resources were available to students. Whenever I wanted to be more involved or needed help with my course load, there was someone available to support me.
Were there any highlights to your first term at Waterloo?
I clearly remember the night when a few friends from my floor and I were cramming in someone’s room and trying to finish an assignment that was due the next morning. It was so funny to see how this unexpected study group session turned into a sleepover with music, pizzas, and smores. It was totally a “kill two birds with one stone” situation. Rest assured, we completed our assignment and had an absolutely remarkable time together! It was heart-warming to experience and I continue to be friends and classmates with those people.
What was it like to live and learn in another language?
Not being exposed to communicating in English often, it was definitely a challenge to get used to the language in an academic setting. I was more comfortable in writing English than speaking. It was overwhelming the first few weeks to adapt, but with time and practice I became more confident in conversing fluently.
Did you face any challenges in your first year? If so, how did you overcome them?
Homesickness inevitably kicked in within the first few months. I remember being quite sad and morose from time to time whenever I was thinking about home. The only way I overcame my nostalgia was to get more involved on campus and meet new people. I found commonalities with so many other international students and eventually made great friends. By keeping myself busy and embracing an optimistic attitude, it helped me to manage my homesickness in an effective way.
What main differences have you noticed between your home culture and Canadian culture?
The cultural differences definitely stood out to me. In Canada, I was exposed to different attitudes, reactions, and mindsets, both in an academic and work setting. For example, back home in Mauritius, a subtle cheek kiss is the norm for greeting people, whereas in Canada handshakes and hugs are more common. I learned a lot from observing other peoples' interactions and talking to my friends; they were more than happy to share their experiences with me and hear mine as well.
What were your experiences like when you returned home?
When I went home, many of my family and friends commented that I became more mature during my time away. I felt more confident, positive, and less insecure, which are qualities that I cherish.
If you were arriving as a new international student again, what would you do differently, or the same?
Despite many people discouraging me from moving so far away from home, I wouldn't change coming to Canada. It requires a lot of energy and self-composure to not be influenced by other people’s advice and opinions, but I preserved!
If I had the opportunity to do things differently, I would try to build my network from very early on. In some instances, I was overthinking about making a fool out of myself, so I ended up shutting myself off from people. It is not rocket science to have a simple conversation with strangers. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of courage and a smile on your face. Believe me when I tell you that some unexpected encounters can turn out to be the best friendships you’ll ever have!
What is one piece of advice you would share with new Waterloo students?
Be open to new experiences and meeting new people. Don’t put restrictions, or build unnecessary stereotypes, before starting your international journey. Most importantly, be yourself and be proud of your uniqueness because the University, and Canada in general, embraces the concept of inclusivity and accepts people’s differences, which makes it the perfect community to belong to.