Indigenous and international students at Algonquin College share similar stories of moving away from home

Algonquin College campuses have students from all over the world. Some are from all over Canada, such as Indigenous communities, and others come from abroad. There are similarities when it comes to international and Indigenous students. The significant similarity is they move hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres from home to pursue higher education. Most students […]
Photo: Valerie Ooshag
Jericho Anderson, aboriginal studies student

Algonquin College campuses have students from all over the world. Some are from all over Canada, such as Indigenous communities, and others come from abroad.

There are similarities when it comes to international and Indigenous students. The significant similarity is they move hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres from home to pursue higher education.

Most students from remote Indigenous communities have not lived anywhere else other than their community and most international students have not lived anywhere else but their home country.

All they know is their people, their home and the city of Ottawa is new grounds for them. The city is diverse, but easily accessible by a variety of transportation.

Indigenous Perspective

There isn’t a lot of diversity in reservations because they were created to separate Indigenous people and European settlers. The Canadian government and Crown established these as part of a solution to land disputes and conflicts between the two according to the Indian Act. There are hundreds of reserves that still exist today.

Some of these remote communities are accessible by planes only. The people who live there are surrounded by family and the same people every day.

Jericho Anderson, an aboriginal studies student at the Ottawa campus, has advice for any future Indigenous student considering moving away from home for school.

“If you’re thinking about going out for school, just do it. You’ll create more opportunities for your community with the education you receive,” he said.

He moved to Ottawa in September 2021 to pursue post-secondary education. He travelled around 2,000 km from his remote Indigenous community Kasabonika Lake First Nation, located 448 km northeast of Sioux Lookout, Ont.

The journey from his community Kasabonika Lake First Nation’s home, took him five flights to reach Ottawa.

Anderson is not new to moving away from home for school. He first moved away from his community when he was 15 to attend high school at Queen Elizabeth High School in Sioux Lookout.

The high school in his community was overcrowded and taught at a lower level because of the lack of infrastructure and resources to provide an adequate education. A number of on-reserve schools have been underfunded according to Assembly of First Nations findings.

He is one of the thousands of Indigenous students who leave home for an urban centre to pursue high school at a young age and to pursue higher education far from home.

He recalls the first time he moved away from home.

“It was a lot of homesickness, being far away for long periods of time at such a young age from your family,” he said. Anderson lived with a variety of boarding parents when he was attending high school.

He said moving alone from a small community like his to a city as big as Ottawa was a “transition.”

Places like the Mamidosewin Centre, the Indigenous centre on campus, made him feel more welcomed.

The Mamidosewin Centre provides services for Indigenous students at the Ottawa campus and it’s a space where they can stay connected with other Indigenous students. At the Pembroke campus, a Kampus Kokum offers support to Indigenous students.

When he first moved to Ottawa for college, he felt he had a lot of support from his friends.

“I feel like high school prepared me for this because I had to move away at a very young age to attend high school,” he said. “So, it’s kind of the same thing with college being so far away from home.”

International Perspective

More than 4,000 International students come from more than 130 countries to pursue education at Algonquin College. Students can come from as far as the other side of the planet, and most are still in their teens.

They travel thousands of kilometres – for some, it may be their first time in Canada or outside of their home country, ever. The great leap across all the lands and water can be both overwhelming and scary.

Vandankumar Patel, 21, computer engineering technology - computing science student
"I had to keep pushing myself towards my dreams and towards the career that I wanted to pursue," said Vandankumar Patel, 21, a computer engineering technology - computing science student. (Supplied photo.)

Vandankumar Patel, 21, is in his final semester in the computer engineering technology – computing science program and the leader of the Gujarati Student Club on campus. He is one of the thousands of students that travel from abroad to attend school at Algonquin.

Patel moved to Canada when winter was at its peak, so he experienced the different weather here, which is very different compared to the climate in India. He said he caught a cold his first week in the country from the minus 25 weather in Ottawa.

“I was like ‘Oh God, where am I?’,” he recalled when he was sick during his first week in the country. He said he reminded himself it was his decision to move to Canada and that he had to stick with it.

“I should not think about going back to family or my home country,” he said to himself when he was sick in 2019. “I had to keep pushing myself towards my dreams and towards the career that I wanted to pursue.”

Patel has been living in Ottawa since Jan. 22, 2019, so when he moved to Canada, it was his first time leaving his home country, and he was only 19. He also attended boarding school in his country before, but it was not like moving abroad.

He described his first few days or weeks as an overwhelming experience.

“It was a different country, different people, different language speaking, seeing people that you have never seen in your life,” he said.

After living in Ottawa for three years, Patel says to “not have any high expectations” when moving so far away.

“It’s good to have expectations, but not too much. Believe in yourself, work on yourself and also, I would tell myself that it is very important when you are away from home is who you are surrounded with,” he said.

He shared some advice for future international students.

“If you are feeling homesick, or have any problem, or mostly when you’re new, people might have a hard time in where to look for things.”

The International Education Centre, run by the SA is available for new and current students for extra resources to help the transition from their home to Ottawa. Algonquin College has a variety of clubs such as the Gujarati Student Club (Sat-sang), which Patel leads, for international students to connect with one another to make themselves feel more at home.

“And, for that, it is good to make friends from your community. Therefore, look out for your classmates if you can find someone, if not, then look out for student clubs just like the Gujarati Student Club,” he said.

The Ottawa campus has a variety of services for both international students and Indigenous students. The international students have support for their arrival and stay in Ottawa through the International Education Centre and student clubs. The Indigenous students have the Mamidosewin Centre and offer an on-site Indigenous counsellor for extra support.

For Vandankumar and Jericho, moving to a city as diverse as Ottawa can be overwhelming and a huge transition.

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