Imagine starting a new life in another country with different people, a different language, different food, different climate, different culture, different in everything compared to your home country. These questions sum up that strange, but intriguing sense of newness, which can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. As an international student, this means a new life, new friends, new school, new schedule, new everything, at least for a little while.

This past September of 2022, Riverside Secondary welcomed 86 international students from 13 different countries. Compared to years before, the number of new students and the range of countries they come from is a departure for the school. It is apparent that all international students have their unique experiences, but there are some aspects all international students share.

Many experience culture shock and are occasionally homesick. Culture shock is a normal part of the studying abroad process, since there are things that are different compared to their home countries.

Weather is a recurrent culture shock for people from South or Latin America, where rain is not that common, and countries have more of a temperate climate. When asked about what culture shock he experienced when he came to BC, international student Pedro Días said, “Here, it rains a lot; in my city back at home, we usually have 300 days a year without rain, so it was really shocking here because the weather is really different from Brazil.”

From left to right; João Maltac (Brazil), Yuki Merseburger (Germany), Agustín Tupper (Chile) and Ariana Fernandez (Chile).

Although for some this weather is fun, for other international students, the constant rain and cloudy weather could be a reason why they feel homesick and sometimes even depressed throughout their exchange. For some, speaking in English has become a habit and for others, it is still a challenge. On top of weather, food and cultural differences, speaking English can also be a challenge. One can’t help but wonder what life is like for these students, coping with all the change.

What’s a pleasant surprise for most of the foreign students is the differences between the school system compared to their home country. The average school day at Riverside is shorter than in other countries; classes are more dynamic and the variety of courses available at Riverside is a real eye-opener for many international students. Riverside offers courses in a wide range of interests and areas, where people can develop fully through different classes. From math and English to mechanics, textiles, drama, food studies, economics, and more, international students find the choices appealing. Schools in many other countries are not equipped with these types of courses. It is a real opportunity for international students to develop knowledge of their interest in school; whereas, for people from many other countries, the variety is not an option. When international student Renata Díaz described school in her home country she mentioned that “in Chile we only have traditional academic classes such as Science or Math, and we don’t get the chance to choose classes that are artistic or that explore other skills. Here I take mechanics, a class that I really like and allows me to learn something new.”

International students have joined extracurricular activities such as sports and have also joined clubs, bringing with them a “diversity and a different way of thinking about things,” said Riverside teacher and international student counselor Kelli Langford.

The arrival of these students is not only making a difference for them, but the school has been changing too. Langford referred to the fact that when there is a large group of diverse people entering a school it provides a whole different perspective on things, since the knowledge base is different, strengths and weaknesses are different; there is going to be a noticeable difference in class discussions and participation.