Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The tune of those happy and carefree summer days are long over. Our hurried paces of moving in and out of classes, meeting datelines, assignments are here to stay at least for the next 3 months. Of course on the hindsight, we constantly pushing ourselves figuring out complex theorems and probability equations which indirectly would make us a bit more mathematically sound. While the weather changes, we are slowly see how the mood of the people on the ground changes as well. Of course the obvious would be the leaves are slowly starting to change from green to red. In addition to that, the day is shorter. Darkness sets in at 7 and no longer 9 during the Spring and Summer days. And daylight sneaks upon us all around 8 and not the usual 5 in the morning. We`re constantly up beat and are always looking for new challenges. But as of the moment, we`re this one head on - surviving our FALL semester...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Summer is OVER

There's only 3 more days left of summer before its officially over. However since last week, we've been experiencing cooler temperatures which has been dropping down everyday ever since. Its now more or less getting to be how it was when we arrived here in Spring - where the temperature was in the teens for the day and at single digit during the night. It just 2-3 more mths before winter comes along.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Student's Newcomers Guide to Studying in Canada P2

It is quite sometime since I wrote on my Part 1 and I can't help but to emphasize that I am doing something a bit different than what I normally would. I'm not writing on our holiday experiences or thoughts on the differences between the common daily things here with Malaysia or the food we've tried or attempted cooking - Instead, I'm writing on - "what we have experience when we arrive here as new students"! I'm hoping that somehow I can document this knowledge down so that it may be helpful to someone someday. Or who knows! One day someone ask us about our experiences because their kid is thinking of going to Canada, then all we need to do is direct them to this link. So there you go, just bear with us for a while here as we're taking a trip away from the norm.

I've mentioned in the prelude on how to prepare before you fly over and in the part 1 section, I've written on what one needs to do when one just arrive. Before I move on to the next topic, let me just add to what I wrote in part 1. If you choose to rent a whole apartment, chances are you're going to get one that isn't fully furnish (almost everywhere in N.America), you're likely to get apartments only with kitchenette, oven, fridge, some built in cabinets, basic lights at the kitchen and toilet only and no furniture and no utensils or kitchen equipment. One important thing to do is to buy basic utensils and a water boiler. Its going to be hard as we experience it with the jet-lag and all, we had to force ourselves to hop onto the bus and head to the nearest shopping area and look for these basic stuff. So you get the idea. NOTE: Of course, things would be different if this isn't your first time to Canada and that you probably have friends you know there.

Now, moving on.

If you're a new student, you'll probably have had some mail from the university and in that mail they would have mentioned to you on some of the orientation events that would take place during the the first 2 weeks or so of your Fall/Winter semester. Its important that you try to attend the orientation as it helps you to get to know others in the university and also to get your bearings right (Chances are the University is so huge, you'd probably be lost trying to look for the library).

Otherwise, another important thing to do is to pay your International Student department office a visit. I'm not entirely sure how things might work for other universities but the one we're enrolled has a Department called, International Student and Exchange Student Office (ISES for short). Every new semester (except for summer), they will organize their own orientation for International students. Do attend that event. If you do, then most of what I will be sharing may most likely be delivered or shared with you in their orientation activities. But if you're not coming during fall or winter term just like us, then you would not have the chance to get this information fed to you. You'll most likely not know any of these important things that I would want to share with now, unless someone told you or you asked.

So, let me just give you an idea of what I will like to share with you.

Here's a list...
When you're new and have arrive here as an International student with study permit, its important to do the following as soon as you can (the more the * star, the more its importance):
  • Make your provincial ID card*****
    Bring along your passport and head to the nearest provincial service center (its also where folks will renew their driving license). This new ID replaces your passport while you're here, so that you don't have to lug your passport around wherever you go. So if you're in Toronto, you'll have an Ontario ID but if you're in Halifax, you'll be carrying a Nova Scotia ID.
  • Register for your university ID card*****
    Of course this is very important ID which you should have with you at all times too. You could do this first before making your provincial card.
  • Be aware of your transportation needs****
    If you don't plan to buy a car or bicycle, find out if your university has any transit pass, if yes and its part of your fees, go get it! Chances are you may get a bus pass but like universities in Halifax, students don't carry an extra pass, they get a sticker on their university ID which indicates that they have the bus/ferry pass.
  • Get your health card*****
    Your student fees should cover insurance plan. Of course if you're coming with your spouse of children, do make sure you have coverage for them. The universities insurance plan should accommodate for that albeit additional cost on your part.
  • Get your drug plan card*****
    Did you know that medicine is expensive, if you don't get any coverage or what is called a drug plan, you probably be paying alot over the pharmacy. And yes, doctors don't issue medicine. They'll issue you a slip with what medicine you need to get. You then need to go to the pharmacy and show them the slip and your drug plan card
  • Get a "student" bank account*****
    I'll probably advice that you go with either RBC or TD Bank, but do shop around a little. Find out more and ask bout the scheme. Some banks like Scotiabank charges CAD1.50 for having less than CAD2K in your acct even though its a student account. Oh yea, all banks require that you book for an appointment first.
  • Complete HST/GST rebate form***
    HST Make sure you have your bank account first then, go find the form and register for your HST/GST cash back. What this means essentially is that you're qualified for a tax return from the government as you are still a student. why? did you know that everything you buy has a surcharge of 12-13% tax. So if you're a student and not working, that's not right. This exercise is a way for them to pay you back. It ain't much but its something. You'll probably receive about CAD60-70 every quarter.
  • Complete and submit an ITN Form***
    As a new international student, you will need an ITN for tax purposes. An ITN is a nine-digit number issued to non-resident individuals. This number is absolutely necessary in order to complete any tax forms or documents and in order to file a tax return. You could download the form online or ask the International Student department about it.
  • Get a mobile phone and service (optional though may be important)*
    It would be a good idea to get a mobile phone so that you could use it incase of emergency. Although a word of caution, Canadian cellphone companies and their services are one of the MOST expensive in the world. You'll be surprise that even Malaysia, China and even African countries are far cheaper than them. If you're not going to make much calls, it would probably be a better idea to go with a pre-paid.
  • Get a laptop (optional)*
    If you're staying about 2 years or longer and if international warranty charges are expensive for laptops bought back in Malaysia, then it'll be wiser to get them here. I'll probably start shopping at Futureshop first as they usually offer the best price. And there is hardly anything like a Lowyat center here, so don't bet on going for clone PCs or laptops much.
  • Register your mobile phone with the university's emergency text messaging service**
    Once you got your phone and phone number, try and search for any emergency text messaging service that the university provides. Its sort of a mass texting which the university would send out incase of any emergencies.
  • Bookmark a weather forecast site (optional)*
    If there's one word to describe Canadian weather, it would be - "unpredictable". Well, if you move from the western most part (Vancouver, BC) right to the Eastern most part (like Halifax, NS) the weather gets more unpredictable the further East you go. So, its always good to just check the weather forecast before you leave your home or your lab or your classes, just to stay informed.
Now that you've done the above, its also good to note the following, although you may / may not be able to accomplish it in the first year of your stay in Canada due to some of the requirements:
  • Apply for a provincial health card & drop your university's health insurance
    As far as I know, if you've stayed more than 12 mths in the province, you'll probably be eligible to apply for a provincial health plan. In Nova Scotia its called MSI. In Ontario (Toronto), its probably called OHIP. By getting the provincial health plan, you could drop the universities insurance plan. That way, you probably save some money.
will add if new things come to mind.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Student's Newcomers Guide to Studying in Canada P1

So now that you've got everything planned out, your tickets bought and your bags packed, all you need to do then is to show up on the flight and endure at least the next 24 hours on air. At first it may be exciting and interesting traveling on a long haul plan for the first time, but trust me your patience will wear thin as the time passes by. It may be best for you to rest it out a bit so that you won't be too tired when you arrive.

If you are like us, traveling when the Swine flu just broke out, its always good to stay safe rather than be sorry later. So, in that case, carry along your surgical mask with you and use it.

You probably would have planned out and time when you would arrive. Like us, we arrive in the middle of the night. If you're headed to Halifax, NS, then wait it out a little at the airport (Halifax Standfield International Airport). There's a 24hrs Tim Hortons restaurant there with Wifi services. That'll be a cheaper solution than putting up the night at any other hotels especially in the middle of the night. But if you’re going to Toronto, then most likely you’ll be landing at the Toronto Pearson Airport.


Come morning you could use the Airporter service to bring you downtown. As of today, Sept 2009, it would cost approx CAD21 per person. If you go by taxi, that'll cost at least CAD53. But, if everything goes well, there would be a public transit service from the Airport to Downtown Halifax next year. (Note: If you're using the Airporter, they would only stop at certain designated spots in Downtown Halifax - mainly hotels and places of interest. But you could request them to help stop you at bus stops which are along their path or not too far out from their path. Remember to ask the driver.) If this is first time to the university, you’ll probably have brought alot of baggage. If that is the case, then it may be wiser to not take public transit. Go with Airporter or otherwise if where you need to be is not within the Airporter’s destination, take a cab.

First things first! You’re thousands of miles away from home and in a foreign land. It’s very important that you quickly find a suitable place to stay. I am assuming that you have come to terms to getting accommodations outside of the campus as the cost of staying in on-campus lodgings may be ridiculously high (at least in Dal). If your accommodations have been prearranged then you are good to go, just like us as we were lucky enough to have found accommodations. Otherwise you’ll have to search for a place to stay while you’re putting up a night at a temporary place (e.g. If its Halifax you’re studying in then try Hostelling International, YMCA International House, or Dalhousie Summer Accommodations which is only available during Summer). A word of advice is to do some searching prior to your arrival. Just make a list of the potential rooms that interest you and their contact number. Or if you could, send them an email. A famous website which Canadians uses is . Otherwise check your university’s website and I am pretty sure they’ll have resources and information on where to find for off-campus accommodations. By working on a list before you leave, you’ll increase your chances of finding a place or reduce the time and money you spend in a temporary accommodation. For graduate students who are married (with or without children), you can opt to look for co-ops here in Canada. Just like us, we are currently staying in an apartment which is a Coop that’s managed by the students themselves. That way we know we’re staying amidst more matured students.

Before deciding which place you want to go for, there are a few things you need to know. Wait a minute, if you’re a first year undergrad, chances are you are going face a few challenge, getting roommates (you haven’t met any friends yet and new acquaintance yet). This is tricky but there are few ways out of this. Look for rooms from existing seniors or look for a rooms rented out by a family. On to the few things you need to know. 3 common types of apartments which you can look for – bachelor, single room apartment, or 2 rooms apartment. In Halifax, rental would be slightly cheaper than places like in Toronto. But of course the further away you are from the campus or downtown Halifax, the cheaper it is (e.g. rental in Dartmouth would cost about CAD100 cheaper). That would also mean that the more inconvenient it is for you to get to campus (although most of the towns/cities in Canada has reliable transit services as oppose to Malaysia). A downtown 1-bedroom apartment would cost on average CAD750-800 and a bachelor (that means no bedroom) would cost about CAD650-700. By downtown I am referring to areas within the South End part of Halifax Peninsular. Cost of rental may be higher in areas like Toronto. A thing to note is that generally in Canada, regardless whether in Halifax or Toronto, rental payment doesn’t include heat (water and electricity most likely will be part of it). Chances are that apartments don’t come with furnitures too. But if you’re renting a room only from home, that may be different. So for apartments, you’ll have the basic which are kitchen cabinet, fridge, oven, small storeroom, built in clothes cabinet, and lights (mainly for kitchen, toilet and front area only). What this means is that you’ll probably be putting up your first night without a proper bed – just like how we experience it.

Remember as I mentioned earlier, you could get things second hand here. It’s a cheaper alternative from buying everything new. If you’re staying in an apartment lookout for notice boards or when you were researching for places to live in kijiji, check out what others are selling as well. But if you’re particular and do not want to purchase a pre-own mattress, one place in Halifax which you could get a cheap NEW mattress is the Salvation Army down by Queens St. There’s 4 types of mattresses sizes here, Single, Double/Twin, Queen and King. NOTE that you’ll probably have to pay for the delivery services for the mattress to be delivered to your place. This applies to almost anything here. You may be able to argue with them to waive the fee or reduce it if you’re buying everything from their store (e.g. lights/ dining set/ studying table/ kitchenware etc.). But be prepared to be disappointed. The average cost for delivery is CAD50. And places especially here in Halifax, there’s hardly any services business operating on Sundays. Also take note that most of the furniture you buy here are DIY. So, do buy a simple toolset or check with the staff if its provided in the kit. If you’re staying in an apartment, make sure to put down your buzzer number (a buzzer number is the number a visitor needs to key in at the front door of your apartment to reach you) on the delivery sheet. Otherwise, if you have a local phone number, that’ll do.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, keep your receipt here. If there’s anything that went wrong with your purchases, you’ll need to proof that you’ve purchase from them and there’s no other way to do that than to show your receipt.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Student's Newcomers Guide (Prelude) to Studying in Canada

It has always been in my thoughts to compile sort of a checklist (if you like) of what someone needs to do when they are coming over to Canada to study.

Wait-a-minute, let me rephrase that, I guess this is going to be fairly long and therefore its going to be more than just a checklist. Sometimes going through all the words may be daunting and there will be times when you think there's simply too much information, but trust me, its really worth the time to just read through some of the details and at the very least be aware of some of the points (especially if you don`t intend to repeat some of our mistakes)

A few notes before I begin:
  1. There are few cases where people ask us about coming to work and start a new life, but I'll have to skip that as both of us itself aren't experience in that area. Infact if you yourself have such experience and would like to share them with us, pls do not hesitate to leave a comment for this particular article.
  2. I also regret that this guide is written in English and English only. Although there are fairly large amount of people from Oriental countries who are interested to come over to Canada in pursuit of higher education, but the fact that I am not conversant or able to type my thoughts in Oriental languages is also the reason why English is used here. Also, it should be known that if there's already an intent to come over to Canada, then one ought to have mastered basic understanding of the English language (at the very least reading comprehension would be a step in the right direction).
  3. This guide may be skewed towards those coming from countries like Malaysia, so certain aspects of it may be different from where you come from. But I believe if you're from a Commonwealth country then the differences shouldn't vary greatly.
  4. This of course are based on our experiences and ours ONLY. I'll try to avoid differentiating between those coming in pursuit for graduate studies with those coming for undergraduate studies, but note that there's some elements of differences like your basic requirements for getting an entry which I won't touch on at all. BASICALLY, I'll assume you've received an acceptance letter from the University of your choice and are currently wondering what to do next!
  5. Above all, if there's any questions whatsoever, pls do drop a feedback.
So beginning this year, both of us received our acceptance letter from our University of choice. We're execited and thrilled but after the brief exhillaration, there's pause and doubts started to trikkled into our minds. What doubts? What questions, you ask?

There were many of course. Well first of all, where do we start?

    Always make sure that you've buget what is expected from you (tuition fees, cost of living, travel cost, winter clothings, books, etc etc) vs. how much you have (whether you're on scholarship, or through your own pocket). You probably may or may not have done this while you were waiting for your application to be approve. If you did, than that's great. If you didn't just make sure you go through it 1 more time. Where do you start of with? Well that depends on where you're studying. Different provinces and different cities/ towns may have different factors to it all! If you're going studying in Nova Scotia (Halifax in particular), then hang on a little minute and I'll give you a low-down on the details a little later. But if you're headed to other areas, then pls, do some online research. Google or BING is your best friend!
    Also important is to move on with your study permit application. Without it, you won't be able to enter the country to study. Depending on which country you come from, there would be different restrictions and degree of strictness on the requirements. To apply google up for the Canadian embassy/consulate of your country. If you're coming from Malaysia, then head over to
    If you're like us, who have NO connection whatsoever to Canada e.g. no close family members or close friends who's currently studying/ working here, then you could opt to drop by the Canadian Education Center in Malaysia. Their website is
    But just note that they may treat you differently depending on what you're going to do in Canada. I believe if you coming as an undergrad, they may be a little easy on you as oppose to grads! Not so sure why!
    Of course nothing is more important than this. But you can't purchase it first without knowing that you have gotten (1) your acceptance (2) your study permit. But at the same time, you know that you'll have to pay more if you wait longer and as the date of your departure comes closer. As a rule of thumb it is always cheaper to buy in advace. So check with your travel agent. Book in advance even though you may not have both your acceptance or permit or either one of them. Remember, you don't have to pay a thing if you book! Also, if you're coming from Malaysia, it is always cheaper to fly from Changi, Singapore instead of KLIA (at least that's our experience). While you're trying out your travel agent, do try and research online to see if there's any offers whatsoever. You can try and should try
    Also take note that there's 2 type of flight routes to Canada. There's the Pacific route and there's the Atlantic route. The former is the cheaper and faster route as oppose to the later (trust me on this, its also geographically proven to be faster even though if you're headed to the eastern most part of Canada like Nova Scotia.)
    There are few good things that you ought to know and settle prior to your departure to the Maple leaf country.
    • Make your ISIC (International Student Identification Card) back in Malaysia first! before you come over to Canada. You'll realize that it would be a cheaper solution then to purchase it while in Canada. Why? There's only a few places where they can provide the ISIC card to you. And if the country is so BIG as in Canada, and let's say you're studying in NS but the closest ISIC representative is in Ottawa than that would be a trouble - you`ll have to apply via snail mail and have them to deliver to you (NOTE: Canadian Post is darn expensive) and lastly, it cost more. e.g. It cost about RM15 to do in Malaysia as oppose to about CAD60 here.
      ISIC cards are renewable every year so, remember to make extra copies of your ISIC application forms with your signature and leave with a family member to apply on your behalf when it expires.
      Here are the places that you can purchase your ISIC card in Malaysia
      I'd go to MSLTravel if I were you as I find them more responsive.
    • Make your US VISA. Why? If you can afford it, do proceed with making a US VISA before leaving for Canada. If you're studying somewhere close to the border like in Windsor, Ontario or New Brunswick, you'll have the urge to cross the border before you head home to Malaysia after your studies, but by that time, you realized you needed a visa. Trust me it is easier to do it while you're in Malaysia as oppose to doing it in Canada itself. It would not be much of a problem as furthermore, your VISA would last you about 10 yrs long.
    Your study may be short. Let's say 2 years to complete, then go ahead purchase your laptop from Malaysia, but be sure to buy the international warranty. But if you're going to be away more than 3 years, then its wiser for you to hang on to your horses and make the purchase while you're here in Canada itself.
    Also, make sure you purchase a plug point adapter before hand. NOTE, the plug points in North America (Canada and US) looks like this.

    And the adapter for Malaysian appliances to a North American plug point, would look like this

    Do check any of the appliances you want to bring over and ensure that they are within the 110 - 120 V. If they are any different, then you'll need a transformer. I myself left anything that was not 110-120 V because transformers aren't cheap but plug point adapters are.
    Pack enough, remember you're not moving house here, you're going to make a new life. So don't bring the mountain, bring enough for you to survive for at least 1 week and then when you arrive, you could hunt for extra clothes there. Check with your airlines what's your handheld baggage limitation and also check-in baggage limit. After you've done a pre-pack at home, just test out how much they weigh to ensure you've not exceed them. Also check with the airline on how to declare that you're a student and that if there's any additional weight provision provided to you. NOTE that if you're purchasing a 1-way ticket, you'll need to proof to them that you are going to study or not they would not allow you to make that purchase.
    If you purchase using ISIC card benifit, you should automatically get additional baggage weight provision. I am not too sure on what the limits are, but I know that there is such a thing and that that it is important. So find out about it!
    As to your locks, if your flight makes a stop to the United States, then make sure you buy a bag or lock which are TSA approve. If you're using anything other than TSA approve, the US security would force open your baggage. You really wouldn't want that. A TSA approve lock would look like this.

    note the red label!
    I can
    't stress this any more. Make sure you make photocopies of your important documents and put 1 copy in different bags with you so that if one is missing, you'll the other available. But hand carry your originals. And if there's anything that aren't important, sort them out in a folder and label them for your parents or love ones to refer for you on your behalf if there's any need to do so. For example, referencing your Malaysian insurance matters or if you've been working and own a property and you need them to sort out some assessment or quick-rent matters, or tax matters etc. etc.
    Jot down all your emergency or important contact numbers of the people or places in the town/city you're going to (for example your registration coordinator or your grad professor or the university's security number, or the Malaysian embassy/consulate's number). And carry it along with you wherever you go. Also get a traveller
    's passport strap-on bag or pouch.
    Where are going to stay when you arrive? Surely not on the street. In most Universities, there are temporary residencies where you could book to stay a few nights. But some may not have them. Some have them, but they are only available during certain parts of the year. For example if you're headed to our university, then you should know that they don't have such things (although they used to). But if you're like us, and are entering during an odd period - like the summer session then you could try to check into their summer services lodging. But check the dates first as, even for this service, it won't start until a certain date. And jot the no. of the lodging / temp lodging to be in once you land.
    You'll spend some time here in Canada. So it would be a good idea to visit the country and enjoy its wonders while you're here. You may want to begin finding which places you are interested in visiting. Get hold of a tour guide book like lonely planet. For me, I purchased the Atlantic Canada Lonely Planet guide.
Alrighty then, after you've done all that, just sit back and enjoy your ride and journey to Canada. But, this is just the beginning. There's more that you ought to know especially when you step for the first time on a foreign soil (especially one as foreign and as far as Canada is). And I am going to share what you need to know when you arrive in my next posting.