Many international students (including me) would agree that moving to a new country can be daunting—yet rewarding. We are grateful for the lessons and experiences that made us who we are now.
In 2020, my brother and I came to Canada from Kazakhstan. Adapting to our new lives was incredibly challenging: We had to learn a new language and understand a different culture—during a global pandemic. Like my brother, I was feeling isolated. I wanted to feel I was part of this new place, the way I felt back in Kazakhstan.
To cultivate this sense of belonging, I turned to a solution I’ve always known: Proactively engaging with the community. The word “community” can refer to a group of people who work and engage with one another for the common good or, more generally, the place where they do so. Getting involved in my community was integral to my life in Kazakhstan, where I had learned to contribute and collaborate with others from a very young age. Growing up, I explored new experiences (such as relocating to different cities and schools), which informed my understanding that actively engaging with the community can afford new values, perspectives, and ways of living. With this insight, I decided to frame this new experience of studying abroad in the same way and explore the numerous communities here.
First, there was the residence community.
Living on campus allowed me to connect with people from many different cities in and beyond British Columbia. After all, BCIT Student Housing is well known for its solid sense of community. Sure enough, my roommates and I became friends, and they were the first mini-community that truly helped me sense Canadian culture.
Then, there was the student community.
Reflecting on my experience, I felt that being a student fostered a sense of belonging. The student community is unique because you get to meet people who have the same goals, concerns, and interests. There is always a chance to learn and grow, especially when the student body is diverse. I worked as part of the Student Association, which helped me expand my social connections, gain cultural knowledge, and develop leadership skills. This community engagement created a fulfilling experience that shaped how I see life today.
And, of course, there was the general community: the Canadian community. As part of this community, I discovered that people always look for ways to improve lives and solve problems, and that we all genuinely care for the beautiful environment we live in. Sometimes it feels like Canada is a hub of the world, where many different nationalities, cultures, and people come together to live and work in harmony for the greatness of the community.
I realized that the community’s well-being depends on each member, and I sensed that respect, kindness, and sharing are the central values in Canadian culture. We can see these reflected in what we do for one another, like how we thank bus drivers, hold open doors, and yield the right of way to emergency vehicles. We also find them in services and designs commonly taken for granted: an enhanced garbage recycling system; ramps, door buttons, and pedestrian signals for accessibility; washrooms in secluded areas (like campsites); needle disposals in public spaces; and emergency blue buttons on campus for safety. These all show that we care for one another, that we are a community, and that we are, most of all, global citizens.
Global citizens are people whose actions help define the values and practices of the emerging world community they’re in, creating opportunities for everyone to prosper.
Being an open-minded and respectful community member is essential to any global citizen, and it’s not a state of mind but constant work. The world is facing many global challenges now, and global citizenship is a solution: Everyone can help the world become kinder, more understanding, and more present for one another.
The way I see the world has truly changed in these two exciting years (time flies so fast!). Through actively engaging with all these communities, I have explored many places, made many friends, and learned many life-long lessons. I feel that I’ve nurtured a strong sense of belonging, that my mind is now always open to new ideas and perspectives, and that I have become more empathetic. As I complete my studies, I will use the priceless experience I’ve gained in Canada to continue contributing to the well-being of the global community, wherever I go next.