Moving Away, Building Community
Published5 May, 2021
Photo credit Tae Hoon Kim
Ten students share their thoughts on how they built community at CapU.
Success at CapU can mean many things: good grades and a keen interest in one’s area of study, for sure. But creating a sense of community is also an integral part of a rewarding student life experience. This can be a challenge, especially if you’ve just arrived from another city, province, or even country.
We interviewed students about how they built community for themselves at CapU, and their stories are as diverse as the places they call home: Russia, India, Medicine Hat, just to name a few. They study biology, communications and music therapy; some consider themselves introverts, while others admit they’re more outgoing. A few students wish to improve their English. Two have returned to school after joining the workforce.
Yet, there are common threads among this group. Everyone longs for social connection and friendship, and each of them, by facing fears and challenges, succeeded in finding community at CapU. Their interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Jasmeen Kaur (She/Her)
Program: Associate of Science, Biology
Hometown: Chandigarh, India
It would have been easy to study in India, but I wanted to challenge myself. Life is definitely busier and faster here. Everything felt at ease and comfortable back in Chandigarh, but here it is tough and fast and I really like it.
It was a little tough in the beginning to manage my time with work, studies and other responsibilities I was doing on my own for the first time. I was concerned about being lonely or isolated in a new country, but fortunately, that was not the case once I arrived here.
Through CapU’s Centre for International Experience, I applied for a mentor before I arrived and met him on the first day and that’s how I made my first friend at the University. Through him, I also got to know about other co-curricular opportunities at the University. I tried my best to be a part of most of those and eventually I joined the International Leadership and Mentorship Program (ILMP), where I got to meet the amazing people that I now call friends.
Now I’m a mentor and being able to be a small part in a new student’s journey here is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I could understand their fears about coming to a new country. It makes me realize how similar we all are, despite our different backgrounds, ethnicities and identities. I am in awe of the fact that at CapU, we all are a part of this big diverse family.
Celebrate all of your little achievements. Give yourself a little more credit, even when you feel like you’ve failed. It takes a great effort to even try, and you did it.
Cale Cooper (He/Him)
Program: Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication
Hometown: Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada
I was born and raised in Medicine Hat. I mostly moved to push myself out of my comfort zone and live somewhere unfamiliar. Having no idea where literally anything was made me more self-reliant than I had been before. It’s definitely daunting but very well worth with it! It still blows my mind how many opportunities there are to just do things.
Making friends was a concern. I’m not the biggest people person but my program relies on collaboration. We are literally with each other eight hours a day, five days a week. I feel that really helped with creating friendships.
Also, live in residence for your first year. It helped me to bond with other students. A lot of stuff is also taken care of for you so, if you’re unfamiliar with your surroundings, it’s a decent little hub for yourself.
Sierra Siciliano (She/Her)
Program: Bachelor of Business Administration
Hometown: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
I love building a new life filled with new places and new people. I like that every day I decide how I want to live it, without the judgment of those back at home. I love building new friendships and the idea of having friends in different places.
I always work wherever I move because I find it’s much easier to make friends at work than at school. I work at a restaurant that is full of people my age. It was honestly so easy to make friends. I’ve met friends at the ski hill, on hikes, through friends of friends. I’ve even made friends through online learning at CapU.
Where I’m from, it’s much more the norm to get married, have kids and settle down. I find Vancouver is more about living out your passions and hobbies and not having a timeline. People here are less obsessed with working and put more into their hobbies. But it is way more expensive out here. It makes it so much harder to buy a house or have kids. Blows my mind.
With regard to building a community, get outside and pick up some hobbies. People in Vancouver are so creative and are into such a variety of activities. Before coming here, I never thought I would mountain bike or get into photography.
Vikramjeet Singh Gill (He/Him)
Program: Associate of Science, Biology
Hometown: Mohali, India
Studying at CapU is my first step in terms of going forward in Canada. Eventually, I want to be a veterinarian or a dentist here.
Before my arrival, I wasn’t really afraid of anything. But when I got here, for the first few weeks, I felt a kind of loneliness. But I used to play basketball in India, so I just went to the basketball court, started shooting hoops and very soon a person came and shook my hand. We started playing. From that day, we played every day. Then more people joined us. So, my fear went away because of basketball.
Before COVID-19, whenever I saw someone I knew, I would shake their hand. This is an Indian custom. Just shake hands and then keep going. No matter how busy or in a hurry you are, you always acknowledge an acquaintance. It shows that you respect the acquaintance.
I live in Surrey, and sometimes I feel like I’m in Punjab. I mean, sure, I know it’s a different city. But for me, if you have to do something, you do it. It doesn’t matter where you are. Wherever you are, you can make your own environment. For example, I love horses. So now, I’m busy working with horses. These days, I actually stay most of the time with my horses. I work with around 75 to 80 horses at a ranch in Delta.
Julia Halfen (She/Her)
In the beginning, it was hard to make friends. Coming from Brazil, I found that my strategies to make friends were often not compatible with Canadians. In Brazil, people have a strong initiative to be friends, and before you know it, you are. In Canada, I feel like it takes much longer than that. It is not the same feeling. Though people are always polite and helpful, they take longer to open up. So, sometimes it can be hard for a new student to socialize.
My first opportunity for making friends happened at residence, where I lived during my first term. Most people there were as excited to make friends as I was, hence it was easy to approach them. In the second term, I made friends from my classes. It was harder, but it worked. These friends were very engaged with the university’s community, and they introduced me to the International Leadership and Mentorship Program (ILMP) and volunteering. Whenever I participated in university events, I had a chance to talk with a lot of people. After that, anytime I came to campus I was recognizing more people. This process allowed me to perceive CapU as a safe space for me.
I used to think I didn’t have time to participate in events and volunteer. But once I made the time to engage with the community, my university experience improved immensely.
Cailey Dye (She/Her)
I came to CapU because it has a good reputation in music therapy. Plus: no minus 40 with the wind chill!
I think the most challenging part was changing my mindset. I was no longer part of the working class — I was a student. I left security to become a student.
The people I call friends, I met them in my program. It has a small class size and the activities we do are so experiential, and it allowed us to share a lot. It’s a rule that our classroom is a space of support and confidentiality. We also engage in a lot of positive experiences outside of class, like jamming together, drum circles, study groups, and just hanging out (pre-COVID-19).
It is terrifying, but if someone is considering leaving their home and what they know, there is a reason for that. That reason is personal and powerful. That reason is your intuition trying to tell you something, trying to pull you toward something. That something is often worth it.
Ramandeep Kaur (She/Her)
Program: Associate of Science
Hometown: Karamgarh, India
The most important thing for me was to go to a university outside of a city centre. I wanted a peaceful place connected with nature.
When I was studying at home, I was pampered. I didn’t have to work. I could study all the time. I ate food cooked by my mother. So, I’m getting used to being independent here. I cried a lot when I came to Canada. Like, for months.
Study, work and just cry!
It was honestly hard to find friends who were really like me. But when I found them in second semester — by hanging out at the Capilano Students’ Union lounge, where I talked to people outside of my program, from arts, from business — it was the best part of my college life!
Work, study and have fun!
I came here with a lot of dreams: to experience a lot of adventures, which I can’t enjoy in my own village. My mother would never let me sky dive! Canada allows you try virtually anything. So, make up your mind what you want to do and then balance this with everything else.
Israel Lobo Gomez (He/Him)
Program: Bachelor of Communications Studies
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico
I decided to move away from Mexico to look for a better opportunity for me to grow as a scholar, but also as an individual.
During my three years in Vancouver, I’ve met people from Germany, Netherlands, Africa, El Salvador, among many other countries. I know for a fact those people will be my friends for life.
Loneliness is really challenging. Sometimes you’ll feel that you shouldn’t be here in the first place. But I get myself back into the game just by realizing how far I’ve come. Plus, I am an extrovert, so, when I got it in my mind to become part of the community, it was easy. I just started attending events, going to workshops, working for the University, volunteering.
It’s okay to be afraid if you are going to a place you don’t know. But I can say, be confident about CapU being your next home.
Wina Regita (She/Her)
Program: Diploma in Tourism Management International
Hometown: Bali, Indonesia
I always look for change and ways to improve myself. Going to school away from home allows me to widen my knowledge, become independent, have opportunities to meet people from different countries and improve my English.
When I first arrived in Canada, I lived in a homestay and I met one of my first close friends who is from South Korea. Then I went to school and everyone was very welcoming and I made many friends. I also eventually got a job and I became close with a couple of my colleagues.
My advice is: do not let the language barrier discourage you from studying abroad. Try to think: it is okay you cannot speak English fluently because it’s not everybody’s first language. You will meet a lot of people who will help you to improve your English. Also, keep in mind that there is a lot of student support available at CapU to help with many things including English, counselling, academic and career support.
Studying at CapU is fun. People (instructors, students, staff) are super friendly, easy going, open and warm-hearted so you will not regret your decision to come here.
Sophie Iudanova (She/Her)
Program: Communications Studies Diploma
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
My father lives here. So, when the pandemic started and I had a lot of free time, I decided, why not achieve my long-time goal of coming to Vancouver?
The best part about being here is practicing my English. Another great part is meeting new people from different countries and having the opportunity to understand their cultures. CapU is an amazing intercultural experience.
Community is really important to me. When I researched CapU, I checked out various CapU social media and online events. I saw faces that looked so open-minded and happy, so I thought, there’s a good community here. But it was also pretty challenging to build new connections with everything online. I just tried to reach out to the people who I saw were open and willing to talk. Mostly, they were like, “Sure, absolutely.” So, it really depends on your own intention and will to build community.
One thing I would advise: You need to turn on your camera during classes! Show that you are a real person and this is how you look; you’re not just a name on the screen.
Don’t be afraid to connect, especially when you share the same class. It’s super normal to connect. There’s nothing strange about it because you’re just trying to make friends!