How important is finding a balance between work and school? And how many students silently struggle with too many obligations? While some young people can focus solely on their studies without worrying about finances, not all have that option. Moreover, international students need help with distinctive obstacles that domestic students do not experience.
Unique Challenges for International Students
Both domestic and international students frequently have to work while attending a post-secondary institution. And while both Canadian and foreign students juggle various priorities, international students pay higher tuition fees, face more government restrictions, might struggle with language barriers and cultural changes, and often lack a support system. These can sometimes paint two wildly different pictures.
Bhaveek Makan immigrated to Atlantic Canada with his family as a teenager. He then moved west and studied Business Administration and Marketing at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. As an international student, he quickly learned that balancing work and school was a struggle for himself and his peers.
He elaborates on how international students must adapt to new surroundings and societal habits while juggling the higher cost of tuition imposed on them. “The cost can be extremely overwhelming, especially when facing natural, cultural shocks,” he says.
Makan also notes that countless international students cannot rely on family or other familiar faces for help. Unlike most international students, Makan’s family also lives in Alberta, and he feels lucky compared to other newcomers.
However, it can also be impractical for international students to immigrate to Canada with family members. Spouses, parents, or children often need help to find their footing and settle in Canada. Providing needed support to family members can be distracting for students because they cannot focus solely on their goals of earning money and studying.
“Domestic students tend to have more support than international students because their family is also from Canada. There is a clear disconnect between these two,” Makan says.
Sophia Bannon, a Canadian student studying at the University of Toronto, is a domestic student with a strong support network. “I’m fairly happy with my support system. My mother supports me during stressful exam periods and helps me out in small ways, like making food or reducing my chores,” she says.
Additionally, unlike international students, domestic students don’t have to stay within a work-hour limit. Until recently, foreign students in Canada had a government-imposed restriction on how many hours they could work while attending school. However, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) temporarily lifted this restriction from November 2022 until December 2023 to address the country’s labour shortage problem.
Overcoming language barriers is another obstacle unique to international students. A recent survey by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) noted language skills as one of the top concerns for newcomer students. Makan agrees that “language tutors and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers are extremely difficult for international students to access at the moment.”
Tips for Balancing Work and School
Both international and domestic students wish they could focus solely on their studies without worrying about income. Sadly, this is often not possible. Learning coping mechanisms to balance work and school schedules is critical.
Time Management Tips for Students
Many Canadian or foreign students share Bannon’s sentiments that “it would be nice to be able to study, socialize and preserve my mental health without sacrificing sleep or free time”.
The Vitality Newsletter from Queens University notes that improving time management skills is the key to productivity and success. It’s crucial to manage time wisely and “work smarter” instead of “working harder.”
- Communicating with employers about class timetables can help employers develop a work schedule that aligns with their school work. With the same work schedule every week, students can guarantee they won’t miss classes.
- Setting time limits for individual tasks can help students work efficiently.
- Finding a job with downtime and regular breaks helps to avoid burning out.
- Going to bed early and waking up early is better than staying up late to finish schoolwork.
- Taking lesser classes per semester, if necessary, and making up for it in the summer.
Money Management Tips for Students
According to a study from the Young Consumers Insight and Ideas for Responsible Marketers, international students from underdeveloped nations can find money management more challenging due to economic, social and psychological factors. The following money management tips can ease financial stress:
- Establish a personal budget.
- Avoid spending excessive money on eating out and entertainment.
- Deposit a percentage of every pay cheque into a savings account.
- Avoid credit cards, or get one with a small limit.
For those with student loans, always keep future debt repayment in mind.
According to an executive summary from the Canadian government, foreign students contribute roughly $22 billion to the economy annually; and IRCC’s ambitious immigration growth plans show that Canada depends on immigrants (including international students) to fix the labour shortage. However, it is vital for public and private institutions to improve the experiences of international students by providing adequate support that helps them avoid burnout as they combine school and work with the many challenges that come with being foreign.
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