Sagar Mehta, Contributing Columnist // Illustration by Annika McFarlane
My Cathay Pacific flight arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Aug. 29, 2017. It was one of many planes to carry thousands of new international students looking at a bright future and a new stage in their lives. Those first views travelling along the road, that first call to my parents back home in Kurukshetra, India, those beautiful houses dotted around my aunt’s place, the address I had scribbled on a piece of paper and taped to my luggage, they were all so memorable. The air was the same but it seemed new and fresh. Everything seemed like a fairytale and at the centre of it I was just admiring the beauty of this wonderful city. I definitely got to appreciate it, my cousin didn’t let me sleep a wink to recover from jet lag.
The next day was orientation day at Capilano University. My alarm rang at 7 am and I was beaming with excitement to see my new school, classrooms, teachers and classmates. I called my family during the drive to the campus, and I shared all of the beautiful sights with them through the car window. Despite the quality time with familiar faces, that tension of being in a new country on my own just could not let me fully enjoy myself.
I moved into a basement in Surrey, where almost all of the students were Indian. Weeks passed, and I got used to the gruesome 5:30 am awakening and 6:30 am commute to make my 8:30 am classes. I was having breakfast with my eyes half-open. I found it a little hard to get used to the education system, but with the help of some new friends I settled in. It was easy to befriend fellow international students because we were all experiencing the same emotions. One month in I got a job as a Technology Sales Associate at Staples. I wore a nice uniform, I interacted with people, sold some sweet electronic stuff and went home. How much better could it have been?
Everything was running smoothly and all the feelings I was experiencing of foundering in a new country seemed to have disappeared. But life always has a test and a lesson waiting, and at the end of November I was scammed by somebody who made me leave my job for a new and a better paying job that I never got. Everybody wants to grow, I did at the time and still do, but that decision to leave my first job without having the other job set in stone meant I was unemployed for a month and a half, but I earned the lesson of a lifetime.
A year ago, I had experienced Canada’s festive season and some of the Indian festivals which are celebrated here as well, all during that weird time of year when it snows and rains that Vancouverites are used to. My studies became harder this time and I had to manage to pay the tuition fees as well. Studying three days and working four days a week with five to six hours of sleep became my routine. Life seemed boring and I decided to do something better with it.
July 2018 rolled around. I was browsing CapU’s campus directory looking for that one keyword, “Student Mentor”, after hearing about it at orientation, and I found it. After thinking deeply about how I could make my university experience worth remembering I decided to apply to become a student mentor and help new international students get settled in. My very first thought was that I would not let any other student at orientation miss out on living up to their full potential like I did. I tried to make everybody forget about the pressure and just go with the flow. My speech at orientation contained some phrases in my own language, which was Hindi, to showcase how proud I was of my background and to make those who also had a culture-rich background to feel welcome and accepted in a safe and diverse environment. It was a moment of a lifetime when my speech ended, and I received loud cheers and applause.
My life has wholly turned around since that day. Since, students call me all day to ask for help or guidance and it makes me feel accepted and important. People have started to recognize me and it feels so amazing that many people want to talk to me and I no longer feel so alone.
And here am I in 2019, having attended one more orientation, trying to help hundreds of new students. I’ve even considered a career as a student advisor. Getting out of my boring routine and doing something has now become an important part of my life, and helping somebody without expecting anything back is what has given me real happiness in this new stage of my life.