Life in — and after — quarantine

SAIT international student Richie reflects on his first semester in Canada

Hello! My name is Richie. I joined SAIT in Fall 2020 from Trinidad and Tobago and have just started my second semester of the Electrical Engineering Technology (EET) program.

Traveling to another country to live and study has its challenges — add in a worldwide pandemic and you get a whole new spin on the experience. I’m sharing my experience since landing in Calgary in hopes this will help other international students new to SAIT who may be experiencing the same thing.

First up, quarantine

I landed in Calgary at approximately 11 pm in late August 2020. I exited the gates to an extremely quiet Calgary International Airport and headed to an information booth hosted by SAIT’s International Centre. After a 15-minute taxi ride under a blanket of darkness, I arrived at SAIT Residence, a designated location for international students to quarantine. Up the elevator, I went to the thirteenth floor of the Begin Tower where I started my two-week quarantine.

It wasn’t easy to get to this point: travel exemptions, a chartered flight, a COVID-19 test, layovers, a cancelled flight and 11 hours of flying time, but I made it. I was now faced with 14 days of quarantine, but I had a plan.

First, I needed to find a place to live when my quarantine was over. I spent a fair amount of time searching the popular rental sites. A few video calls later, and with the assistance of a friend, I found a place to live for the next eight months. With a study permit and proof of address thanks to my rental lease, I applied for my Social Insurance Number (SIN) and Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP), and set up a bank account in Calgary.

💡 Tip

Do your research and familiarize yourself with the processes and options available ahead of time — I did and it made a huge difference.

Being in quarantine was mainly a mental battle, and my intention was to win that battle with some trickery. One of the perks of quarantining at Begin Tower was the view of the sunrise. I didn’t miss a single day with coffee or tea in hand — it was always a good way to start a new day.

SAIT international student Richie reflects on his first semester in Canada

Part of my strategy to keep my mind occupied involved searching for essential items I could purchase online for life after quarantine. I purposely staggered ordering them so I could give myself something to look forward to and unbox at regular intervals. I also know endorphins have a significant effect on your mood, so I made sure to spend some time daily doing physical activity to get them flowing.

Beginning to feel like home

When quarantine was over, it was time to start checking things off my list to transition to life in Calgary and at SAIT.  At times it was a little tedious, but most of my to-do items were things you only have to do once — for example, getting your AHCIP card or buying kitchen utensils. It took me a few weeks to actually get everything done because I also had to focus on my classes and assignments.

For those who need to work part-time, my advice is to be patient and not be too worried if something doesn’t come your way quickly. The current situation has added some complications, but there is a job for you — you just have to keep looking and you’ll find one that fits your location and schedule. A good place to start is to sign into My Career Hub. I used it to access an online job board exclusive to SAIT students and alumni. I also searched on Indeed.

Getting around Calgary isn’t difficult. The Calgary Transit system is easy to use, and I recommend using Google Maps because it always has the most up-to-date information. As you use the system, you’ll become more familiar with the stops and times. There may be some walking involved but a bit of extra exercise is always good. Given that SAIT’s UPass transit pass is currently suspended, if you plan on using the transit system regularly, I would recommend purchasing a monthly pass.

SAIT international student Richie reflects on his first semester in Canada

Now that I’ve finished my first semester at SAIT, I feel like my transition into my new life is now complete. While there may be reservations about online learning, what I have come to realize is — as with most things — there are pros and cons. My program is blended, and I have the opportunity to go to campus one day per week where I’m able to interact with some of my instructors and peers — while social distancing, of course.

SAIT international student Richie reflects on his first semester in Canada

I have a great group of peers who provide support and assistance around things that are both academic and non-academic. They even occasionally give some constructive criticism, even if I have to read in between the lines to get to the constructive part. My roommates have also become my family in Calgary. We are all culturally diverse with origins from different places but we share our experiences and there is a lot of banter on a daily basis. They also come in handy when it’s time to shovel 12 inches of snow from the walkway!

Words of wisdom

My advice to new international students is to embrace where you are and the differences in social norms and cultures. Preserve your identity, but also use this as an opportunity to develop yourself in new ways. Appreciate the opportunity to live in and be part of Canadian society — it’s a luxury many desire.

Get involved where you can

Though it’s difficult to really immerse yourself into student life due to the pandemic, there are still opportunities to do so. Most of my interactions since starting SAIT have been with the International Centre and the people at SAIT Residence from my time in quarantine. In addition to being part of the SAIT Student Content Team, I have also applied to become a member of the KVA Club for EET students and I always keep an eye on what’s happening with Saitsa. I’ve also looked into Student Development and Counselling to help with my transition.

Layer up

Coming from a tropical climate, I would say the best way to adapt to the weather conditions is to be prepared by having the proper clothing and footwear, and also to not attempt to “hide” from the low temperatures. Exposing your body to the weather conditions is the only way it will adjust. It surprises me how normal 0°C now feels.

As I kick off this new semester with great anticipation, I wish all new and continuing students a great and successful Winter 2021.

Make the most of your transition to Canada and SAIT

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