written by
Ava Richardson

When I arrived in Canada, I spent my first semester transitioning into university life. Nearing the end of my second semester, something unexpected happened. The COVID-19 pandemic hit! On request of the university, I immediately returned home for the rest of the semester.

For my second semester as well as my second year I attended online lectures and utilized asynchronous learning. The pandemic has been a challenging time. For many, life in lockdown meant close constant contact with our immediate family. After my university’s announcement of resuming classes in a hybrid fashion, I was eager to pick up where I left off.  Though I was excited to continue my studies and connect with people, I quickly realized that it would take some time getting used to being away from home again. In third year, I was met with the demands of ‘adulting’. For the first time, I was living off-campus, balancing academic and non-academic priorities together.

As my third year comes to a close, I have begun reflecting on what has helped me to survive. Being in Canada has given me the opportunity to experience different cultures through people, food, and music. Interacting with people from all over the world has allowed me to increase my cultural sensitivity, build relationships with people from various backgrounds, and engage in cultures beyond my own. This has definitely contributed to my international learning experience in a positive way.

On the other hand, I cannot ignore the emotional impact living abroad has had on me. For example, sharing a household with people who had a second or third language in common with which I was not familiar was a big challenge for me. This often left me feeling disconnected. Being an international student from the Caribbean, establishing strong support systems has become extremely beneficial to my university experience.

My Antiguan mother has instilled in me the value of cultivating a sense of community. For me, this looks like reaching out to and staying connected with family and family friends. I remember feeling deeply appreciated after a family friend sent me a care package with various essentials like mango, canned goods, snacks, and cleaning supplies. I was elated and filled with joy as I could not believe the perfect timing of receiving the package.

Community is important. We all need people. Though a small community of individuals, I will be forever grateful to have people offer transportation to and from the airport, provide a roof over my head when needed, and check up on me during a period of bereavement. I am also appreciative of the time I’ve been able to spend with my cousins and the chance to get a break from my daily routine. From celebrating Independence Day with a group of Antiguans to spending the Christmas season and Easter weekend with my cousin, having Antiguan connections in Canada has allowed me to experience home away from home.