ApplyBoard ia a THE Student trusted partner. ApplyBoard provides prospective international students with the information and advice they need to study aborad in Canada. For more information on ApplyBoard and how they can help you, you can visit their hub here.
My brother Massi and I came to Canada in 2011. Our older brother, Martin, had come the year before to do his master’s degree in engineering at the University of Waterloo. He picked us up from the airport and we were jetlagged but excited.
Martin had the biggest smile on his face when he saw us. Since the moment he touched down in Toronto, he’d been trying to convince our parents to send us to Canada. Our mom and dad weren’t sure as it’s rare for Iranian students to go abroad to study and Massi and I were barely 18. But Martin was persistent and they finally relented.
It turned out convincing our parents was the easy part. Ten years ago, the international education system in Canada was in its infancy. Canadian schools knew little about other countries’ school systems and were unfamiliar with foreign transcripts. It took months of waiting and numerous follow-up calls and emails for Massi and me to get our letters of acceptance. But we finally made it and I couldn’t believe it.
It was like being in a movie. I quickly discovered that Martin wasn’t the only one with a big smile on his face. Everyone I met in Canada seemed to be constantly smiling.
I’m often asked whether I experienced any culture shock when I came to Canada. In short, not really. We got lucky in one way – our first winter in Canada turned out to be mild by Canadian standards!
The biggest challenge was the language barrier. When we stepped off the plane, Massi and I didn’t speak a word of English. Our first task was to complete an intensive four-month language training programme through the English Language institute at the University of Waterloo. It gave us the foundation we needed to work through our academic programmes in the years that followed.
After that, I began a business administration programme at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. My instructors at Conestoga were incredibly supportive. I was the only international student in all my classes, and they went out of their way to make me feel welcome and ensure I understood their expectations for my assignments.
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I also loved the hands-on learning experience the college offered. The Iranian secondary school system is very theoretical, with more thinking than doing. My Conestoga programme offered cooperative education placements and during the academic year students worked with local businesses to assemble and implement business plans. It’s the direction in which I think education is headed – more experiential learning.
There were challenges, of course. The Iranian system is almost exclusively individual assignments. At Conestoga, we were frequently doing group work, and I quickly learned that I couldn’t do everything on my own. The language barrier made things difficult there too. My language programme had taught me academic English, not conversational English, and it wasn’t always easy to communicate with my peers. It was hard not to feel left out. But my classmates made a real effort, and with practice and time, my English improved and things got easier.
More than anything else, studying abroad changed my life. Like Martin, I knew from the start that Canada was where I wanted to build my career.
In 2015, a year after I graduated from Conestoga, Martin, Massi, and I started ApplyBoard. ApplyBoard is an online platform that empowers students around the world to access the best education by matching them to institutions that fit their background and interests. The three of us had experienced first-hand what an incredible impact studying abroad can have on a student. We wanted to bring that experience to as many people as we could. And we wanted to make sure the process was as seamless as possible.
Students often ask me how they can get the most out of their study abroad experience. I’ve got two big pieces of advice:
Learn as much as you can about the education system and the culture of your destination before you go. Research online and seek out students from your country who have been there before you and find out what their experience was like. Reading THE’s student blogs and ApplyBoard’s blog is a great start!
Once you arrive, do what you can to immerse yourself in your new community. It’s natural to want to connect with other students from your home country while you’re studying abroad, particularly if, like me, you don’t know the language. But you’ll get more out of your experience by building connections with a variety of people.
Meti Basiri is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of ApplyBoard. In 2020, he was named to three Top 30 Under 30 lists by Forbes: Education, Immigrants, and Big Money.