Toronto universities team up on foreign student peer group

Elisa Chang was an outgoing student in her native Taiwan, popular among classmates for her friendliness and a favourite of teachers for her good grades.

The 19-year-old came to study at the University of Toronto with high expectations, but soon learned the new freedom away from home was not a “real vacation.”

“I was popular in high school but it’s hard to make friends here. People are nice, but it’s hard to have any deep conversation. People would laugh at things I didn’t know were funny,” said Chang, who came to study international development and economics in 2013 on a student visa.

“I just didn’t get it and I faked it, as if I understood. I was very sad. I blamed it on my English. I was discouraged to talk and make friends. And I became anti-social. I struggled in school but I did not want my parents to know.”

Such challenges to mental well-being are common among foreign students, who now account for 8 per cent of Canada’s post-secondary student population. That’s why three Toronto universities have teamed up on a joint program meant to help foreign students deal with the transition to studies in Canada.




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