It was in the fall a year before our graduation when my friends and I started talking about what we want to do after high school. “Will you be staying in Jakarta?” “What are you going to study?” “Where do you want to go?” We would ask these questions to each other constantly. At the time, 18-year old me was determined to leave Jakarta – I was getting tired of the big city life and ready to be out on my own, even if it meant leaving my friends and family for a while. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study abroad so I started to weigh my options and did my research on universities and places to explore. I chose Canada instead of the other countries because believe it or not, it felt right at the time. One of my teachers was Canadian and he would go on about how much he missed his home in Alberta and how beautiful it was over there with scenic lakes, endless hiking trails, and amazing mountains. Having lived in Jakarta surrounded by skyscrapers and constant traffic, I wanted to try something different and thought Edmonton would be the perfect chance for me. I only applied to one university in Canada and within a couple of months, I was preparing my visa application and sorting out things to keep and to donate.
Canada: Land of Diversity and Beauty
My first couple of weeks in Edmonton, Canada was exactly as I imagined it. While the city was very industrious and went through a lot of construction, it was charming. The city has gone through a lot of development in infrastructure and in population – there is an inside joke that Canada has two seasons: winter and construction! However, people were very friendly and the University of Alberta campus area was very beautiful. Shortly after arrival I made new friends, sorted out my class schedule for the semester and went to orientations. I got lost on campus a lot more times than I care to admit, went to West Edmonton Mall (the largest mall in North America) and bought my first furniture in IKEA.
Canadian Education at a Glance
Even though the classes were getting harder and the winter was getting colder, I was actually enjoying life in Edmonton. The Canadian higher education system encourages its students to be independent and takes responsibility of their studies; the curriculum is designed in such a way that you are responsible to complete all the assignments and adhere to the methods provided by the instructors. While some classes were in the form of lectures, the other half consisted of multiple projects that you had to complete in a certain period of time (e.g. a portfolio for a semester, two papers for a half of semester). Instructors are available to help and you are free to reach out to them for questions and discussions throughout the semester. You are encouraged to do your own research and assignments without being micromanaged. As a design student, instead of final exams, we had to complete a final portfolio consisting of multiple projects that will be assessed at the end of the semester. The Canadian and the American higher education system is quite similar in this sense and a lot of the educational organizations between the two countries collaborate to make sure students can study and transfer easily between schools if necessary.
This is a contrast to the education system in Indonesia that I experienced and frankly, I preferred this method of teaching. I remember growing up in Indonesia, I had to take notes based on what was on the board and in order to learn we had to memorize what we were told. I preferred the Canadian teaching method because it pushed me to make sure I was on top of my studies and I had to be organized and independent in order to succeed. As I progressed through my undergraduate studies, I became more comfortable in expressing my opinions and presenting my research results to my peers and instructors. It helped me to create my own voice and helped me
shape my thoughts and personality. Aside from adapting to studying at a Canadian university, I learned to keep a positive attitude and to embrace the Canadian culture. I spent my first Thanksgiving with my dorm friends and cooked my first turkey. I got new scarfs in the fall and shortly had the full blown -30°C white Christmas. Within months, I started to call Edmonton home and was an expert in sliding down the icy pavements on the way to school.
Working in Canada
It was during the first semester of my final year that I decided to live and work in Canada. The Canadian government was offering opportunities for fresh international graduates to stay and work, and I took this chance to start job hunting. I applied for the Post-Graduation Work Permit, which at the time allowed international graduates to stay in Canada and work for more than half the duration of their studies. Because I completed my undergraduate in 4 years, I was granted a permit that was valid for 3 years. The challenges I experienced during job hunting were the common challenges, but I tried to keep positive and became proactive – I went to workshops to improve my resume and cover letter, read articles about how to land an interview, and made connections through my classmates and friends. Fortunately, a former classmate of mine was already working and she offered me a position at her workplace. Shortly after graduation, I got my first job and today, I’m a graphic designer working at a local advertising agency and enjoying my eighth year in Edmonton.
A question that is asked often is “If I want to work in Canada, I will need to study there as well. Is that true?” While it is easier to find a job in Canada if you graduated from a Canadian university, that is not always the case. Canada is in the middle of changing their perspective on immigration and the government is working on making it easier to work and migrate to Canada. A lot of young professionals and graduates are encouraged to move to Canada and I personally think this is great – embracing diversity and different cultures is a major element that I see more often in the Canadian daily life. What could be more perfect than inviting people from all over the world to join the community to add harmonious diversity? This confirmed my belief that Canadians are among the most open-minded people and genuinely kind in the world.
My friends still ask me if I wanted to go back and live in Jakarta, and this is when I quote Canada’s favorite singer (not Nickelback, but Justin Bieber) “never say never”. Jakarta will always be home, but living in Edmonton has made me more independent and appreciative of the little things in life. Living in Canada pushes me to work hard not only for myself, but for my friends and family and the people I meet. I love the friendly atmosphere, the fresh air, close proximity to nature and the diversity I see in people every day. Canada is a melting pot of different people and cultures and I truly enjoy meeting new people and learning about them. To those who are considering studying or working abroad in Canada, I strongly recommend it. The harsh winter may not be your thing, but moving to Canada was the best choice I made and I hope it can change your life as it did mine.
Photos are provided by the author.