Starting up in the ‘6ix’

By Hannah-Safiyya Awan, York University, Toronto, Canada.

Confession: I had never been to Canada until two weeks ago when I moved to Toronto to study abroad, so I wanted to share a few things that helped me get started.

There are two main things to consider: 1: Moving into a new city, and 2: Starting at a new university.

Moving to a new city 

For the starting transition weeks, I had very few classes to attend, which made for a perfect opportunity to explore the city and get set up.

If you are also moving to Toronto, I would definitely recommend getting a Presto card for transportation as this can be used as fare for the subway, tramcars and buses (make sure to get the student discount when purchasing your card, too) and download the TTC app for help getting around. If you plan on travelling outside of Canada, be sure to carry your study permit as well as your passport.

I travelled around the city, mainly by using the subway, to integrate into the city and understand how to use public transport. I obviously had to visit tourist destinations such as the CN tower, Toronto Islands, and St Lawrence Market. I checked out a few events that were going on, like the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and the Canadian National Exhibit, all of which I enjoyed.

I also decided to open a Canadian bank account as my study here is for eight months, making it easier to pay for things with no foreign transaction fee. Also, make sure to keep some Canadian dollars on you just in case.

Getting a new sim card also helped as this is cheaper than being charged roaming fees, and I can also contact other Canadian numbers, which is helpful in an emergency.

Doing everyday things like going to the supermarket, shopping, getting food and walking around is also a good idea for making yourself feel more comfortable so that you know where you may need to buy essentials. I also did this to understand the culture better; for example, tipping/ gratuity is pretty standard here.

Starting at a new university 

It’s a good idea to get emergency numbers such as the police, ambulance, and campus security, just in case—also the key emails for your exchange and knowing who to contact.

The university should send an email to exchange students stating what you’ll need, such as a student ID card, a login for the website, insurance or healthcare (it is really important to sort out your healthcare insurance), etc. I would make sure these requirements are completed first as there’s usually a deadline for them, and it helps to keep you organised.

The university system may also be different regarding how things are graded when exams are, and the expectation that you will buy your books, so check with your professors or syllabus before class. Also, books can be expensive, so you might want to check if it’s available online first.

Once I found out where I could buy essentials, I started setting my room up with anything I may need for the year, like plates, mugs, a kettle, bedding, etc., but I did bring a few things from home, too, as a nice reminder for me. I also familiarised myself with where I could get food from and where I could do my laundry, the buildings I would be in, the library and student services.

Attending an exchange student orientation really helps to meet fellow exchange students and begin building connections as they likely feel the same as you in terms of moving and may be in your classes. Orientations or other on-campus events are usually good for meeting people, especially if you are interested in a society/ sport.

… I’m still settling in here, so we’ll have to see what the future brings.

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