Many of you have asked us questions about life as a newcomer in Canada. Some are about making the landing, finding housing and getting a job. Others have asked about the best universities, programs and student residence; wondering what to expect and how it is to live away from friends and family and living in a new city.
The best people to answer your questions are those who are living that experience — newcomers and international students. We got a few of them to talk about their experiences. In the first of this series, we feature an international student here. Meet Harsha Ravishankar
Harsha personifies a typical international student from India. He is in his mid 20’s, an engineering graduate doing his masters in Lakehead University, Ontario. He lives off-campus and is excited about his future in Canada.
A bit about your background, please?
I arrived in Canada in August 2019, just in time for my program that was beginning in September.
I am originally from Hiriyur taluq in Karnataka. I did my Mechanical engineering from Bangalore University and worked for about three years in two well-known companies- GE Transportation, India and Wipro Infrastructure Engineering, before deciding to do my masters in Canada.
Where and what are you studying in Canada?
I am pursuing a master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. I live in Thunder Bay which is a small town in Northwestern Ontario.
Why did you choose to study in Canada?
First and foremost, is the job opportunity that Canada has to offer. As a student, I also wanted to study in a country and a university which affords a student-friendly environment. I found both in Canada and in Lakehead University.
When the thought of pursuing my masters came to my mind, I spoke to a few of my friends who had studied in countries such as the US, Canada, Europe and Australia and some who are still studying in these countries. It was good that I talked to them and a few others who had travelled the world. I made a decision based on my friends’ suggestions, keeping my own personal considerations in mind. I decided Canada would be the country that would fulfill my future expectations.
Canadian universities offer a wide range of subjects for students. Most good foreign universities have entrance exams and a long application process. I found that the entrance exams and the process to apply for Canadian universities were simple and easy. English being the primary language in Canada, one does not have to worry about learning a new language. Most Indians speak good English and have studied in the English medium. That helps.
Then comes the money part. Most Canadian Universities are not very expensive and their fees are not sky-high. The best thing is that here in Canada, students are legally allowed to work part-time and are allowed to work outside the Campus too. So, it becomes easy to get a part-time job. Canada has a strict minimum wage rule and working for 20 hours even at minimum wage gives you enough money to manage your expenses. These are some of the key factors that made me choose Canada over other destinations.
Can you outline your journey to Canada? Is your journey going according to your plans?
These days you can Google a lot and I did spend considerable time trying to understand the education system here in Canada, about the programs offered in Universities and the job potential.
As a student, I like that the Canadian education system focuses not only on the main stream technical skills like Engineering, Medicine, Management etc, but also other social skills like Advanced Social Planning, Human Service Organizations, Regionalism, Multiculturalism etc. Also, students are given a choice of including management/business studies even under technical course which helps in exploring the multiple career possibilities.
I also sought professional help. I approached abroad higher education consultants like IDP for suggestions about the university selection, financial aspects, and job opportunities post studies. After I received the admission offer, my visa application went really smooth and fast.
I had selected Lakehead University because only they had the program I was interested in. And only in their Thunder Bay Campus.
Once the visa was cleared, Lakehead University guided me about the rules and regulations that international students should adhere to and helped me find suitable accommodation too. Luckily for me, I did not face any major problems during my entire process of applying, securing admission and travelling to Thunder Bay. It is been a satisfactory journey so far.
What is your advice to those who plan to follow your journey?
I would advise that you “know your strength” and “area of Interest”. Canada has almost everything to offer. Also being flexible if things don’t go according to your plan. I believe that exploring the job markets around Canada would give an idea about what to learn or what to be prepared for before graduation. Learning technical/managerial skills related to the course and having certification would weigh a lot in one’s resume. However, making friends, developing references would also play an important role in landing onto the dream job.
How is your friends’ network here? It is difficult to live away from the family. But how have you coped till now?
Fortunately, my friends’ network is pretty good here. I have a few friends from back home (Bangalore, India) who had moved to Canada a few years ago. It was very helpful to learn about the pros and cons of higher studies through them. I am building a network that is necessary to hunt jobs through them.
Yes, for the first couple of weeks, I found it difficult to stay away from family. However, as I met new people and got to know the city, my home-sickness gradually decreased. I call home every day. Yet, I still miss them. Calling and being in touch with friends who come from Bangalore, helps me a lot in battling my homesickness.
How is your typical day? Walk us through it including your classes and your daily chores.
I feel that days pass pretty quickly here. I usually have 2 hours of class each day. I arrange things required for school the previous night. After my classes, I spend about an hour in the campus library or a friend’s place for group studies. I also manage to engage myself in physical activities like swimming. Around the evening I prepare dinner along with my roommate. We usually cook for the night and the next day, so that gets us going for the day. I try to eat at home on most days and if I am going to school, I carry some snacks. I also spend some time reading and watching movies.
I share a house with another person, it is an apartment. So it is easy to share the chores and also to cook meals. Luckily, both of us have similar taste in food, so it becomes easier for us to cook. And we clean and mop the house every alternate day on rotation. We try to avoid eating processed foods as much as possible.
I often spend my time completing the assignment and projects with friends. I believe exchanging thoughts in a group would help tackle the problem a lot quicker. We meet up every weekend at one of my friends’ place and spend almost a day in completing school work. We try not to keep anything pending.
I have been working part-time at McDonald’s. It has been a great experience working in a totally new environment. Of course, this is the first time that I am working at a restaurant! Working hours are not long but work is busy most of the days. I got to meet many locals and listen to their stories, food habits and culture, in this job. And the paycheck from working here is sufficient to cover the rent and other basic expenses. Also, working part-time has never clashed with my school work.
What are the plans for your future?
I want to work in the Energy/Environmental sector in the future. I constantly look for what skills and knowledge are necessary to be able to land a good job in this field. Also, I am considering Plan-B if things do not work out as I have planned. One of them would be to learn about investing.
The investment would always be a good idea. I have seen a few Indians here in Canada investing in Food & Beverages/restaurants. That is an interesting investment in small cities such as Thunder Bay. Learning Finance would always be helpful. Currently, I am not focusing on plan B. However, ones I become financially independent, I would love to learn new skills necessary for investment. I do not have much knowledge about investments, although I would love to learn about it.
You started your program just six months ago and are already talking about a career in an area that is totally different from what you are studying. How is it possible?
Canadian education system focuses not only on the mainstream technical skills like Engineering, Medicine, Management etc but also on other social skills like Advanced Social Planning, Human Service Organizations, Regionalism, Multiculturalism etc. Also, students are given a choice of including management/business studies even under technical courses. This is beneficial for a student to explore the possibilities in his/her career choice. Also, there is a choice to move to different colleges/universities depending on student’s comfort.
Canada being one of the largest countries offers many job opportunities in all the fields. Even the employer looks for certain skills or qualities necessary for the job rather than his/her past educational background. This helps to learn new things and explore new careers. This makes me confident in having flexible career options.
How do you see your future in Canada?
The final goal is to be happy and satisfied with what I have. To be in a good position and an asset to the employer would be the right goal as of now.