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Our journey as international students in Richmond

Michael Ma   Nov-15-2018

McRoberts Secondary international student Michael Ma is joined by schoolmates Kacie, Rinaa, Elsa and Chris.

Photo submitted

When I was young, I often wondered if one day I would be studying in a foreign country with a vastly different culture.

This innocent wonder has become a reality after I moved to Richmond in 2015.



During the past three years, I found many of my fellow international peers have also made similar decisions yet we held diverse views regarding the experiences as an international student.

Currently in the Richmond school district, about 1 in 20 students are international students.

At Hugh McRoberts Secondary, we have 105 international students, hitting 10 per cent of the total population. In my role as student council vice president, I have devoted a significant amount of time and effort into helping newly arrived international students to integrate into Canadian society.

I interviewed Kacie from China, Rinaa from Japan, Chris from Chile, and Elsa from Brazil about their impressions of life in Canada.

I asked them why they chose Canada and specifically Richmond.

“My brother has been a long-term resident in Richmond and he knows the contexts of this city well,” said Kacie.

Chris felt the same way. “I have family here in Richmond and I have visited this city before. I simply like it.”

Rinaa, who lives with a local homestay family, said her main goal is to improve her English.

“I think there are lots of Asian people in Richmond so I don’t have to worry too much about the cultural differences.”

Elsa said local public schools are better structured and organized than those in Brazil.

Also, in Richmond there are a lot of classes unavailable in Brazil such as photography, sculpture/ceramics, law, drawing and painting.

When asked about some of the most unforgettable challenges that they have encountered while studying here, the answers varied.

“I think it is a process of transitioning from a dependent daughter of my parents to independent adulthood.” Kacie said.

“I vividly remembered the first time to buy a SkyTrain ticket, and how I trembled to the wrong station and missed an important appointment,” Chris, a Grade 11 student from Chile, shared his story of joining the school volleyball team.

“Being part of the boys volleyball team, brings me both rewards and challenges.”

He said the challenge is to “fit” into the team and adapt to Canadian ways.

Rinaa, a Grade 11 Japanese student, and Elsa from Brazil, echoed that the biggest challenge they are facing is language issues.

“My first language is not English and I have to try very hard to understand the language” Elsa said. “I struggled with my English 12 essay, it is so hard for me,” she said.

How is school here different from back home?

“In China, we have eight or nine classes per day, whereas here we only have 4 blocks. Also, we have a lot of homework back in China,” Kacie said.

Chris disagreed.

“I feel like I need to do more homework here in Canada; back in Chile, we literally have no homework.”

Rinaa agreed with Kacie “Schools in Japan are kind of strict, I think here is better. Schools here are more free and relaxed.”

Although the views are varied from nationalities and cultural backgrounds, one thing they all agreed upon is that schools here in Richmond can provide them more freedom and opportunities compared to home.

Homesickness, which I considered as an inevitable part of experience as an international student no matter where you study, still remained one of the most significant challenges.

Kacie and Rinaa both expressed that they have experienced homesickness to various extents, but they tried not let it interfere too much with their life for the same reason.

“I occasionally felt homesick but just looking at the volume of homework I have to finish, I have no time to feel sad or tired,” chuckled Kacie.

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