International student in Canada

Best life ever as International Student in Calgary

Inside: Being an international student in Canada has its ups and downs and how you face all the challenges will make or break you. 

Nothing can really prepare one for life in Canada, whether you have a student, work, or immigrant visa except living it. Before leaving Manila in 1996, I tried to read as much as I can about Canada and asked relatives and friends many questions about Canadian life. But I only found out once I arrived and started the life. As the Petro Canada tv ad says, “You have to live here to get it.”

Hey, Canada!

International student in Canada

At once when I set foot at Calgary International Airport, I felt the chill was so different from a cold December night when you attend ” simbang gabi.” Stepping out, I breathed in the freshest and cleanest air in the world. This was the very first thing I noticed. No kidding. Anyone on their first time in Calgary will experience the same. Kevin Costner said he did, when he came as parade marshal last July, during the Calgary Stampede.

Then on my way to the University of Calgary, it was snowing. Wet snow welcomed me. I asked my uncle who was driving if I can roll down the car window and catch some snow. My first snow. My aunt said, Go ahead!

Related post: Student visa: Flashback 1996

Land of plenty

Overwhelmed by my new world, I was also blessed with the benefits enjoyed by the University of Calgary from Canada’s oil and gas industries.

I felt rich on campus. Literally, a “land of plenty”. Food flowed at our dining centre. I chose meal plan B that came with choosing your res (short for student residence, or dorm). The staff who ladled the food on my tray always gave generous helpings. So much that I sometimes say, “Oops, enough, thanks.” You grab your drinks or whatever you like.

At the cashier, you just tap the ever-powerful student ID card. The school lent me money for food and everything already! And I have not paid tuition yet. I didn’t realize this until my first day in school was over. Milk flowed like water from the tap as this was actually in jugs fitted with taps.

I watched the students, especially the young males, grab the tall glasses to get milk from the taps, with no limit. I tried to do the same, as the milk was delicious like melted ice cream minus the sugar. In my first week, I gained almost 10 pounds.

I was late for more than a week for school when I arrived, so I tackled tons of reading articles and writing papers all at once. I can’t seem to focus as I was distracted by my new surroundings. ” Pakiramdam ko po ay parang akong halaman na binunot sa paso ng Pilipinas at nailipat sa isang napakalaki at malamig na lugar.”

Student benefits

My student ID card was loaded with much cool stuff which I never had before. Apparently, my admission and registration as a full-time student for 3 courses already entitled me to many perks. And I have not paid any tuition fees yet, as I said earlier. My intention was to pay in the middle of the term.

With my card, I can swipe secured doors at the tunnels that connected my res to my school buildings, (helpful when it’s freezing cold outside); swipe it to photocopy, swipe it to pay for meals in our dining room anytime, and some more. How marvelously convenient!

The only fee I paid before arriving was my single room at Rundle hall, for the fall term. Rundle was the cheapest and oldest res then. I had a big room to myself (can actually fit 3 people), furnished with a comfy bed, huge closet, desk, and chair. But I shared the bath with female students. A cleaning lady came once a week, and she cleaned the baths, too. May tagalinis ako!

Vending machines with snacks were all over, with a separate one only for free contraceptives. A 24/7 grocery with more snacks and mags was on our floor connected to the long hallways and bright tunnels where the dining centre, and bar were, the squash rooms, laundry rooms, and guest rooms.

The 24/7 store was there at wee hours when you’re hungry from non-stop readings and the dining hall and bar were closed. Candy bars, frozen food, bread, healthy and fancy drinks, nuts, fresh fruits, celebrity mags, etc. can be had for cash or credit card. Here, the student ID did not apply.

Olympic standard facilities, skating rinks where a classmate tried to teach me ice skating, swimming pools, etc. were accessible. The U of C was, and still is, one of the major training grounds of Canada to train athletes for the Olympics and world sports competitions. The university hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, that’s why the facilities were standards and so were the student res and halls.

More benefits!

Soon, I also found out that with my student ID, I can go to the dentist near the university for any dental work with 80% coverage. Yes, 80%, can you imagine? The university covered it. I took advantage of this, of course, and had several fillings and a root canal. I paid $6, $11, or $ 38 depending on what was done to my poor teeth (the 20% was out of pocket).

These days, I am not sure if international students in Alberta or anywhere in Canada are still enjoying 80% dental coverage. For my medical health coverage, in the province of Alberta at that time, you can opt to pay $1/day to be covered by Alberta as I was on a student visa. I paid it later, in 1997 after I finished my first fall term. It was worth it as when I needed to see a doctor, my Alberta health card covered the removal of my moles and warts on the face, neck, and back.

All in all, I didn’t pay much as it was also automatically deducted from my salaries when I started to work on campus as a researcher, library assistant, Tim Horton’s customer service staff, and in the summer, as a housekeeper.

I became a member of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees in 1997 due to these jobs. I started to contribute to CPP, the Canada pension plan, and to EI, or Employment Insurance in 1997.

Government aids

In Canada, each time you work and it’s on paper, meaning, it’s legal, the employer issues you a proper pay stub, where part of your earnings go to CPP, and to EI. The pension may be small from CPP, but when you are a landed immigrant or citizen, this is a big help already. Your employer will also match your pension contributions, plus you can buy your own pension fund, called RRSP, a registered retirement savings program, from a bank or other financial institution. My EI contributions helped me in several ways as I continued to stay in Canada.

I will tell you more about the benefits I received from EI in a separate essay. Many people don’t realize that EI is money from the government, not just because you lost a job; it can be more than that.

Getting to know my classmates and “foster” family

My classmates were mostly white Canadians; only a few of us were non-white. On campus, you’d see students from India, China, Europe, African countries, Japan, Brazil, and Mexico.

I was paired with an undergrad student from the UK, but of Indian descent, who became my “brother”, at the International Student Centre. We were matched with “parents” who showed us the city and Canmore, a ski resort about 45 minutes from Calgary. It was a supportive setup for international students who were on their first term at the University.

Oh no! Culture-shocked

I was fooled by the sunshine. Almost every day in September, all the way to late November, each time it was sunny, I’d step out wearing only my hoodie or double layers of shirt/blouse and a sweater. As soon as I’m out, I’d turn back quickly because it was too cold. I had gone back to my res to grab my jacket. The slightest breeze was enough to give me the shivers.

The next day, it was the same. I’d looked out the window and saw the bright sun, then came out in double layers, only to return for my jacket. I can’t believe it! I felt stupid.

It took me so long, maybe three months. to drill it into my head that this is not the Philippines anymore. That just because it’s sunny, it’s warm. No way. I didn’t understand then that this was part of culture shock.

In school

All our professors were white, except for a Canadian-Filipino. I had some difficulty understanding their accents. I noticed that my classmates, too, may have had a hard time with my accent. Over time, we all understood each other and I just kept going.

I’ve applied for bursaries, not scholarship grants as the latter were competitive and few for the field I chose, which was Communications. Big scholarship grants that were also plentiful were in the field of engineering, and sciences such as chemistry.

I was awarded bursaries of about $5,000. At that time, each course was only $700-800 but doubled when you’re an international student.

To reach the finish line

In my second year and second term, my money was gone. I was scraping pennies. But by this time, I have filed my application to become a landed immigrant. My papers were being processed as the months went by.

I can’t work on campus even if I wanted to as I have no time. I was researching and writing my master’s thesis, a time that took an enormous amount of energy, and sleepless nights. I had to burn the midnight oil. I was on track to graduate by June 1998. If I don’t finish by June, fine, I can extend my studies. But that was a luxury for me. I have to graduate no matter what, as it was expensive to be an international student.

I did it!

International student in Canada graduation

” Paano ako nakapagpatuloy ng walang pera? ” My once mighty student ID with a meal plan had no more meal coverage. I had to remove it to put money into other fees. Instead, I used the food bank inside the university for the last two months of my studies. From our food bank, there was so much food again. I can hardly finish the food they gave each week.

I made sure I paid all my fees well until May 1998 before my graduation. I did not borrow money from my aunt and uncle as I was doing fine. I had a nerve-wracking oral defense for my thesis, then I finished everything. Done. I got my master’s despite all the odds. And I can and will do it all over again as long as there’s another school as wealthy as the U of C.

By far, that was the best life I had in Canada. It was the best because I had faced hardships, but I held strong and succeeded. I say this with all my gratitude. I tried to pay it forward with many volunteer jobs both in Calgary and in Ontario starting in 1999 as a landed immigrant, then later as a citizen.

Are you planning to apply for a study permit in Canada? We can help you! We do one-on-one coaching at Canada Bound Coaching. Meet your coaches here. 

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6 thoughts on “Best life ever as International Student in Calgary

  1. Thank you for your review and story about your time at this beautiful college.  It was interesting to see how your life went there, and I’m glad that the government seemed to help some.  I bet you was relieved to leave when you did though, considering that your money had ran so short.

    1. Hi Jessie,

      I believe that the money on her student card that paid for her school expenses, including food was part of her tuition fee.

      Yes, the government of the province of Alberta, Canada is rich and gives lots of bursaries and scholarships to their students, including international students.

      Thanks for reading.


  2. I love to read how you personally have been experiencing a new life in Canada,as I always wondered how it would be like myself living in such a beautiful country, with lots of nature still there and as you said: a breeze of fresh and clean air, the moment you arrive. I have only been on holiday to Canada, but I am thinking about emigrating and I will bookmark your website to learn more on how to manage that sometime in the future, thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Lizzy,

      Canada is a beautiful country, and especially during summer, you will be able to go camping and explore nature.

      Start planning your immigration and begin gathering your documents. Processing in the midst of the pandemic has been quite slow, so it’s always good to give leeway to these circumstances.

      We can help you when you are ready to apply.

      Email us for a free one-hour initial zoom consult at



  3. How enjoyable to read this article, is also the same way I came to the US from India for my graduate studies.

    I was in that memory lane while reading every word of your article. But could not understand the other language you wrote besides English.

    Thank you, so much. It is very helpful for anyone coming to Canada. I am not sure how much the Finances have changed now. Canada is always a welcoming country. I loved the dental insurance plan you had as a student. Many international students love to come to Canada and explore opportunities and financial situations. 

    1. Hi Anusuya,

      It is quite expensive nowadays to apply for a student permit here in Canada, but lots of applicants are able to come because many schools ( the designated learning institutions ) are open to international students. 

      They usually require one-year full tuition fee, which is much higher than the permanent residents and citizens, and you need to bring with you proof of finances to support you while studying, which is at least CAD $10,000.

      Glad that you enjoyed reading and somehow was able to relate to the experiences of Ms. Reyes.

      Thanks for reading.


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