Messages from the ISS – International Student Support

Do’s and Dont’s for course taking

Lea Krusemeyer (she/her) // Contributor

Being an international student can sometimes make you feel like an alien. Everyone knows what is going on, but you just arrived from a different planet and are desperately trying to figure out what everyone else already seems to have mastered. I am here to help guide you through the process of decoding what is going on in that new world you just landed in.

Now that a new semester is about to begin, I want to offer advice I wish I had known when I first chose my courses. I remember how confused I was when I first tried to do my schedule. Still back at home in Germany at that time, I was sitting in my living room with a coffee and about 10 tabs open on my hard-working laptop. My three most used tabs were the guide to my degree, the course selection and, of course, Google so that I could put in hard words that sounded unfamiliar to me and get a translation right away. Jumping back and forth between those, I carefully selected five courses that would mark the beginning of my Canadian academic career. After shuffling around a little and comparing the teachers on ratemyprofessor, I had what I believed to be the perfect schedule.

Fast forward to when it was time to start my semester, I soon realized I made a few rookie mistakes. First, if it is possible – do not put all your main courses into one semester. If you have the choice, add a few electives in order to lighten the course load. I did not do that, and it ended up costing me not only financially, but mentally as well. The workload made me stressed and there was not much energy left to enjoy the first semester in Canada. 

A big difference between Canadian universities and universities in Europe is that, in Canada, you have to pay tuition by course. Each class costs X amount of money and all classes together, plus a few added fees, make up your tuition. In Germany, the only other university system I ever experienced, there just is a set amount of money per semester and you can take as many classes as you care for. Assuming it would be the same here, I stopped attending one of my classes because, to me, it was obvious that I could just retake it next semester, as I already paid for it. This turned out to be a very expensive mistake that I warn you all from making – you will have to pay the tuition for that course again if you do not properly drop it as to university standards.

All of this could have been avoided if I had just reached out for advice earlier – or  at all. Unfortunately, there was a certain level of pride that came with me moving here on my own that made me believe I could do it all alone. This is another thing I would like to stress – you do not have to do this alone! There are resources here at CapU and even if you do not want to reach out to those, you can Google or ask experienced students how they did it (just make sure they are international as well, because the rules are different). If you feel like reaching out, there is the CIE, the Center for International Experience, based in the library building that will help you with countless problems or any questions you might have. Do not be like me and feel too proud to walk through those doors and ask for advice.

I am now in the middle of my second year and the beginning of my studies feels like forever ago. I made friends, I finally figured out where all the buildings on campus are and stopped randomly ending up in Fir instead of Cedar. However, the one thing that still gets my adrenaline up is making the schedule. Just a few weeks back, I was sitting in my living room, which now is in Vancouver and not in Germany, with my cup of coffee going back and forth between multiple open tabs. This was my fifth schedule that I created and the first I felt confident in, because I emailed the school and asked someone to look over what I had created. It took a little while for an advisor to get back to me, as they are extremely busy during those times of the year but once I heard back, I knew I made no mistakes.

Hopefully this encourages some of you to reach out and ask for help, because Canada does things differently than the countries we are from and not having all the answers is okay. Decoding Canadian university systems takes a while, so stick around because I know you’ll get there.

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