Stepping off the plane in Regina, Sumedha Majumdar had arrived at a place where she didn’t know a single person.

What she did have was a Facebook message from the Indian Students’ Association at the University of Regina assuring her they would pick her up.

As a student coming to the U of R in December to pursue her masters in computer science, Majumdar was unfamiliar with the city and the culture. The Indian Students’ Association proved to be her lifeline, helping her through the difficult first few days of transition.

“I have no one over here in Regina, so I just informed them via Facebook that I would be coming on this time at this date, and they picked me up from the airport and they even at the beginning showed me the places I could visit, like for shopping or for the nearest bank I could go, and all those basic necessities,” she said.

“That really helped me, otherwise I (would have) had to do it all by myself.”

Bhamandeep Singh, president of the Indian Students’ Association, said this is something he helps with frequently.

Before they leave India, students often message or text the association in search of someone to pick them up at the airport or help them find a place to live, he said. The association helps out in those first few days when new students arrive and then provides support throughout their time at the U of R.

The number of international students at the U of R has grown steadily over the last decade, from just 932 (eight per cent of the student body) in 2009 to 2,473 (16 per cent of the student body) in 2018.

India is the most common country of origin, making up around half of all international students, although China and Nigeria are also popular, said Livia Castellanos, associate vice president of the University of Regina International. The most common faculties students come for are science, business, engineering and arts.

Although more and more students are choosing to leave their home countries to pursue an education at the U of R, the initial transition period is quite a shock for students.

“Students are culturally transitioning, linguistically transitioning, their whole set of values and their whole set of experiences that they have from their country … what they see here is completely a different experience,” said Livia Castellanos, associate vice president of University of Regina International.

“Those settlement and those transition points are difficult for people to understand and are difficult for people to really adapt (to).”

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The cold weather also takes some getting used to. Hassan Siddiqui, president of the Pakistan Students’ Association, said students often message him from Pakistan and ask what kind of clothing they should bring for the cold climate. He tells them to wait until they get to Saskatchewan to buy anything.

“Whatever you’re going to bring from Pakistan, it’s not going to help because they don’t know what it is like,” he said with a chuckle, recalling the brand new leather jacket he brought when he first moved from Pakistan to Regina as a Grade 11 student. Instead, once they arrive in the city Siddiqui helps them purchase winter boots and jackets.

As a student in his final semester of a business administration diploma, Singh knows how difficult the transition can be. He said the biggest challenges international students face are learning a new academic system and finding a part-time job to cover high tuition costs.

“Number one is to get adjusted with the system of study we have here because it’s totally different in India, so first they actually take a lot of time in setting up themselves with the classes, with the professors,” he said.


Hassan Siddiqui, president of the Pakistan Students’ Association, poses for a photo in a classroom at the University of Regina.

TROY FLEECE /

Regina Leader-Post

Majumdar agreed, noting that in India there is less open conversation between students and professors. It took some time to get used to, but Majumdar said she is enjoying being able to go directly to her professors if she has any trouble with her classes.

Out of all the universities in Canada, Castellanos said many international students likely pick the U of R because of the school’s reputation for personalized student support. All members of the UR International team used to be international students themselves, so they know what the experience is like, she said.

While the student support and academics may be why international students come to the U of R, high tuition costs are also a part of the experience. As with most Canadian universities, Castellanos said international students pay three times what domestic students pay for each course at the U of R, turning an average $650 class into a nearly $2,000 class. Sometimes this financial burden forces students to change their initial study plans.

“Our tuition continues to grow and the students face the unknown of the tuition growing and them not being able to afford it,” she said.

“They will have the goal to come for a degree, but unfortunately after a year or year and a half, you know, (some) face a challenge in covering the tuition, so they will graduate with a certificate or a diploma.”

Siddiqui said some Pakistani students message him before they come to the U of R, asking if they would be able to cover their tuition just by picking up a part-time job during the school year. He tells them no and that they will need to have some savings beforehand.

“It’s around $12,000 a semester, right, so it’s a lot of money. Once you get your degree done, like a four year, four and a half year degree it is easily around like $100,000,” he said.

But even picking up a part-time job to help cover costs has proved a challenge for many students.

“Regina is a small city so you don’t have that many job opportunities, so for some student’s it’s actually hard to find jobs in Regina,” said Singh.

Majumdar is facing exactly that. Although she is able to pay for her tuition, she had been hoping to find a job so she wouldn’t have to rely on her parents’ support from back home as much. After applying for a number of jobs, she has yet to land one.

Despite the transitional and financial challenges, Singh and Majumdar are still glad they chose to study at the U of R.

“You get to meet new people, you get new ideas, you get to share experiences,” said Majumdar. “It’s a new experience for me, so I’m enjoying it.”

With all of the cultural events put on by the Indian Students’ Association, Singh said he has been able to keep in touch with his home culture while learning about Canadian culture and meeting new people.

Castellanos is pleased to see so many international students choose the U of R because it brings diversity to the school, benefiting everyone on campus.

“It provides Saskatchewan students who come from our province with a global experience, with a diverse experience, with a unique experience,” she said.

lgiesbrecht@postmedia.com



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