Life as an international student in Toronto at Ryerson University

I was born and raised in Indonesia but in the fall of 2011, I moved to Toronto to become a Ryerson student. I had just turned 17 and it hadn’t sunk in how big of a deal the move was and how important it was to be mentally prepared.

Natasha Gan at her home in Indonesia. (Courtesy of Natasha Gan/Ryersonian Staff)

Natasha Gan at her home in Indonesia. (Courtesy of Natasha Gan/Ryersonian Staff)

I’ve been speaking English since I could speak my own mother tongue, Indonesian, so the language wasn’t a problem for me: My accent was. Over my past three years in Toronto, I’ve received countless comments about my accent: It’s thick, cute, foreign, similar to another dialect, weird or off-sounding. All those comments only added to the pre-existing insecurity I have about it, making it all the more difficult to talk to people without thinking I sound strange or worse, incomprehensible.

I also have to interview people on a regular basis as a journalism student (for which I pay two-and-a-half times more than locals do, without the help of OSAP).

Sometimes the cost alone had people questioning my decision to come to Ryerson, and not University of Toronto or a more renowned school elsewhere.

Then there were the little things outside school that also reminded me of how foreign I was. I had no idea what a ‘double-double’ was at Tim Hortons, and I must have looked like a deer-in-headlights when a cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart asked me, “Do you have a loonie?”

In a land where trams are streetcars, toilets are washrooms and the subway coins look like arcade tokens, I found myself lost.

Why did I travel halfway across the world, literally leaving the comfort and year-long warmth of Indonesia, to study in a far away, foreign land?


Three years later, I realize that leaving my comfort zone was one of the best decisions I have made. I needed to grow up and this was the best way to do that. Cliché as it is, if given the chance I would do it all over again.

Living in Canada has taught me important things I would have never known if I stayed in Indonesia.

I’m not talking about knowing how to order coffee and differentiate between coins, but about life in general.

Apart from living alone and picking up after myself, I’ve learned from Canadians first and foremost the power of the word “sorry.”


I’ve seen so many instances that ended in an argument just because nobody had the humility to admit their faults.

I saw how breaking the ice and saying a simple ‘hello’ doesn’t make me weird. In fact, it’s pleasant.

Canadians are, for the most part, pleasant and friendly — sometimes excessively, especially on days I don’t want to chat with a cashier about my day.

After hearing horror stories about living abroad in the U.S., Australia and elsewhere, I think Canada is a paradise.

Illustration by Aqil Anindhityo Raharjo. Special to The Ryersonian.

Illustration by Aqil Anindhityo Raharjo. Special to The Ryersonian.

It’s diverse and inclusive, qualities that are overlooked and underappreciated. I would have never met people from Laos, Croatia, Somalia, Palestine or Tibet if I hadn’t come here.

With all the different ethnicities, facial features, stories, and sometimes even accents, it’s became natural for me to ask where people are from. Similarly, my accent actually gets people wondering about my country of origin and it’s nice. It starts a conversation through which they get to learn a thing or two about Indonesia, which Bali is a part of, and I get to learn a thing or two about what others think of my home.

To my surprise, some people don’t have a single clue about Indonesia. Not knowing where the country is on the map is one thing, but not knowing that Indonesia, the world’s third largest population, is a country is something else.


But since instances like these become an opportunity for me to be an ambassador of my home country in the smallest possible way, I enlighten my counterparts with great pleasure and not disdain.

A file photo of Natasha Gan. (Courtesy of Ryersonian Staff)

A file photo of Natasha Gan. (Courtesy of Ryersonian Staff)

Talking about home appeases my homesickness and if it takes travelling halfway across the world, being Indonesian-food and comfort deprived to appreciate where I come from, that’s another reason why I would do it all over again.

I get to experience life in Canada, I get to sip on a heavenly French Vanilla and munch on the addictive BeaverTail. I have been given the chance to live somewhere completely and utterly different from Indonesia, a chance that half the people in my country probably don’t have.

When I do go home, things are not the same, just like my parents had warned me before I left. My first time back home, I couldn’t remember the PIN code to my front gate, my dogs took sometime to recognize me, and in a way, I became too mature for some of my childhood friends who lacked perspective because they didn’t have the chance to study overseas.

As happy as I was being under the same roof with my family and indulging in the sense of familiarity, I have to admit, I missed Toronto from time to time. On days where the tropical sun was scorching hot, flurries sounded blissful. The notorious Jakarta traffic-ridden roads that resemble a massive parking lot suddenly made the TTC and all its delays bearable. In between tolerating Indonesia’s sweltering humidity and inhaling its borderline hazardous pollution, I craved for Toronto’s crisp, almost fresh air.


I may be a 24-hour flight away from my family, constantly struggling to find a reasonable time to Skype with them, but in the midst of being clouded with homesickness, the silver lining lies in being lucky enough to have two homes.

This story first appeared in The Ryersonian weekly newspaper on Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

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