Feeling at home in Canada

What steps can you take to feel at home in Canada? Each person adapts in their own way, but it helps to understand culture shock and how it may affect you. It’s also important to feel safe and connect with people around you. The people in your life and the experiences you share will shape your time in Canada.

In this section, find out about personal safety, dealing with homesickness and connecting with others.

Personal safety

Canada is one of the world’s most peaceful countries. It’s also one of the safest. The Global Peace Index, which is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, consistently ranks Canada as “very high” in terms of peace and security[1].

Still, it’s important that you follow the same safety precautions in Canada as you would anywhere in the world. Here are some tips to keep you safe:

Register with your embassy or consulate. We suggest you tell the embassy or consulate of your home country that you’re living in Canada. Registering with them provides a point of contact for Canadian authorities in case of an accident or emergency.

Know your surroundings and who you can ask for help. Colleges and universities have campus security to keep students safe. This may include patrol cars, 24-hour telephone lines and well-lit kiosks that are equipped with a hotline to the security office. In an emergency situation, call 911 to reach the police, fire department or ambulance.

Stay safe on campus. Trust your instincts and leave uncomfortable situations, such as being with a stranger in a lab at night. Some colleges and universities also offer an after-dark “walk home” service where qualified students will walk you home or to another location to keep you safe.

Stay safe at home. Meet and get to know your neighbours. When renting accommodation, always deal directly with your landlord and make payments to them. Ask for a receipt as proof of payment. Don’t let people into your building if you don’t know them. If you’re not expecting a repairman, delivery person or salesperson, tell them to go see your building manager. Keep your door locked, even when you are home.

Be street smart. Be cautious toward strangers, just as you would anywhere. Walk on well-lit, busy streets at night. If possible, travel with a friend and avoid isolated places, such as parks or alleys. Some parts of a city may have higher crime rates than others. Ask advice for the best way to get safely to your destination.

Understand alcohol and its impact. Not all students drink alcohol, but if you do, know your limits. Don’t put your drink down at a party or bar. Drugs can be put into your drink when you are not paying attention. Drinking and driving is a crime in Canada. People caught drinking and driving can lose their driver’s licence and potentially go to jail. Similarly, don’t get in a car with a person who has had too much alcohol (or consumed drugs).

Travel safely by bike. In some provinces of Canada, bike helmets are mandatory for children and adults. If you’re riding a bike at night, be sure you have front and rear bike lights and wear reflective clothing. Bicycles must ride on the road or on a bicycle path and bikers must follow the same traffic rules as car drivers.

Travel safely on buses, trains and taxis. Know your bus route and schedule before you leave. Do not hitchhike. Taxis or ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft are a good way to get home when it’s late and dark. Canadian taxis have meters showing the cost of the ride. Many public transportation systems also offer safety measures (such as emergency phones at stations) and special assistance for people travelling alone at night.

Travel safely around Canada. Don’t leave your bags or belongings unattended in airports and bus or train stations. If you decide to hike, climb or bike alone in a more remote place in Canada always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return. Register with the park ranger’s desk at the information centre if your adventure travel takes you through a provincial or national park.

Dealing with homesickness

It’s perfectly normal to miss home when you are an international student. You may miss your family and friends, or you may long for everything that is familiar to you, the food, the lifestyle, your routine and your home. This is called homesickness and it’s part of dealing with culture shock. Understanding that it’s normal for you to feel this way, and knowing how to deal with it, will help you adjust to your new life in Canada.

What are the symptoms of homesickness? You may not be able to concentrate in class or finish your assignments with ease. You may notice things about Canada that make you long for home:

  • When is winter going to end?
  • Why is everyone so busy?
  • Why is it hard for me to make friends?

Tips for dealing with homesickness

  • Spend time with friends and talk to them about how you're feeling. Many international students say their friends become like family when they’re away from home.
  • Set up specific times for video calls with your family. Your life on campus can be very hectic, so make time to maintain these connections. Seeing their faces will help you. Force yourself to stay in touch through good times and bad.
  • Cook food from your home country. Prepare a meal with your favourite foods as a treat for Canadian friends, perhaps with other students from your country. 
  • Join sports, activities or clubs on campus. Take part in events for international students. This will help you develop a circle of friends. Talking about homesickness with people who understand will soothe your mind.
  • Get to know Canadian students. You may get invitations to their homes for Canadian holidays or visits with their family. They can help you understand Canadian culture.

Laughing about the quirks of Canadian culture is just as important as understanding the etiquette of your new country.

If you find that you’ve spent too long without laughing and homesickness is taking over, contact the health clinic or counselling centre at your school. A counsellor can provide the support you need to start feeling better.

Connecting with others

Most international students find that connecting with others helps ease the transition into life in Canada. It also ensures that you have a positive experience when you study abroad. Just as you’ll have a need to keep in touch with your family and friends back home, it’s equally important to connect to the people you meet on campus, at work and in your new community.

Tips for connecting with others

  • Make Canadian and international friends. Be sure to have a mix of both to make the most of your experience and to benefit from their perspectives.
  • Get involved with campus life. Join a club, do sports in the gym, get active by working out with others, attend campus events like theatre or music and spend time hanging out in student lounges.
  • Join the international students’ association on campus. You’ll meet other students from your country and from all over the world who have a lot in common with you. They can also help you navigate your new life in Canada.
  • Talk to other students before or after class. You already have your course in common. Why not get to know them and perhaps discover a new study partner?
  • Use social media to widen your circle. Choose your favourite platforms to meet new friends, set up social plans, connect with classmates, schedule a study session or plan your group meetings.

[1] Institute for Economics and Peace, 2018 (PDF).