University welcome week around the world: Canada

By Kristina Spencer• Last updated: Oct 30, 2023
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O-Week or Frosh is the Canadian orientation week, aimed to bring students together, provide academic guidance and break the ice (before the real Canadian ice hits the streets).
Orientation Week in Canada, better known as Frosh or O-Week, happens the week before classes officially kick off. Every university has a different approach to Frosh — from its length to activities — but there is one universal goal: to make things less awkward for first years and introduce them to student life in Canada. A carefully planned itinerary is packed with academic introductions and guidance, cheesy ice-breakers, day events all over towns, and nights out. Orientation Weeks seek to involve everyone, and end up being some of the fondest memories alumni have of their time at school. It also allows you to see some familiar faces around campus as classes begin and ease the pressure of academics and living on your own for the first time.
Some universities separate Frosh by faculties, while others give reign to college societies and students’ unions. McGill University, for example, is known for its friendly rivalries between faculties — Arts Frosh and Management Frosh consistently fight for who throws the best parties (back in 2011, the Management Faculty brought Avicii to one of their evening events); but McGill also offers alternative Frosh Weeks, such as Outdoor Frosh organised by the McGill Students Outdoors Club. 

Once upon a time, Frosh Week was considered to be a week-long party filled with pub crawls, but now it involves workshops on mental health, sexual assault, LGBTQ+ issues and First Nations culture and history. In the end, Frosh Week is about having fun, meeting new people and settling into a new environment — and Canadian universities make sure they provide an inclusive and safe environment for the incoming students.
Here are five hallmarks of Canada’s Frosh Week and how they might be different this year.

Move-in day

Move-in date to residences is usually set for the weekend before Orientation Week, giving students enough time for a last-minute purchase of pillowcases they forgot to pack. By Monday, you are joining your neighbours in a competition with other Halls, allowing you to form first friendships and play tug-of-war. Some universities install a full-year Residence Wars competition program that keeps students engaged and allows you to meet people from other Halls. 

This year will certainly be different as some residences stay shut for the Fall semester; but various universities are providing accommodation for international students who are choosing to travel to Canada for the start of the year. The accommodation will allow for you to self-isolate and adheres to safety standards established by the Canadian government. Yet, if you choose to stay put and head to Canada for your Winter semester instead, Halls have Facebook groups for incoming students every year — so make sure you join and like their official pages, as this is the best way of connecting with your future neighbours.

University-wide orientation

Canadian universities frequently separate their Froshes, allowing students from same faculties to spend a few days getting to know each other. While you are able to opt out of a faculty frosh, universities encourage you to participate in a university-wide orientation, which can last a day or two. Discover McGill (McGill’s version of all-students orientation) is held the day before Faculty Frosh kicks off and usually includes a welcome address from the principal, a service fair and even more ice-breaking activities at McGill’s football field (think forming a human-chain in the shape of 2020, commemorated by an aerial photograph). This year, university-wide orientation will be held online, with a virtual speech delivered by universities’ principals and virtual workshops and service fairs. These are definitely a must to tune in to, as they’re packed with essential information about your university’s structure and helpful tips on how to succeed.

Orientation/Frosh leaders

O-Week is organised by student groups and faculties — meaning that people who are planning your Frosh are upper-year students who’ve been through the experience themselves. There are coordinators, who work hard in the months leading up to Frosh to plan it and continue to work throughout O-Week to make sure everything operates smoothly. But it is your Frosh leaders that become your bridge into university experience — selected by the coordinators, they are upper-year students that accompany incoming students (typically, froshies are separated into groups that are then assigned 3-4 leaders). These are the people who guide you during the events in a safe way and make sure everyone feels included. They also answer all and any of your questions — from “Where do I buy groceries?” to “How do I drop a class I don’t like?”. 

Frosh Leaders are an incredibly valuable resource, and many remain your friends and helpers throughout your time at university. This year will be slightly different, but universities are still assigning first-years to Frosh groups and putting students in touch with the leaders; so make sure you reach out to the friendly upper-years with any concerns you have.

First year workshops

You have attended your university-wide O-Day and asked all the right questions, but international students may still be confused about the Canadian university system — there are four years, each class earns you a number of credits and what exactly is the difference between a lecture and a conference? 

Canadian Arts programs, for example, follow that of American Liberal Arts Colleges, encouraging students to declare majors in their second year. Universities understand the confusion and try to make the transition as smooth as possible by offering workshops to first years. Many provide separate sessions for international students to help you plan your course schedule; A-Levels are sometimes considered to cover first year coursework, so you could be allowed to take less classes during your four years at university. 

This autumn, these workshops will be held virtually and in-person, depending on the school and their decision to provide on-campus experiences. Make sure to connect with your university advisor, which you will be assigned by the time you start O-Week, so they can explain the intricacies of Canadian education system and what exactly is required from your course load in your freshman year.

Nights out

Concerts, parties, boat cruises and pub crawls are all a part of student life in Canada as a fresher and the Canadian O-Week experience— but drinking is definitely not mandatory, and sometimes even illegal. Canada’s drinking age varies by province, and OStaff makes sure that your Frosh bracelet’s colour reflects your age. 

Leaders take their jobs seriously, regularly referring to consent and reducing any peer pressure around alcohol consumption, a welcome part of the Canadian Frosh Week experience. Of course, this year things will be quieter — but most orientation weeks still promise an experience of a lifetime to their students, bringing in pre-recorded events and livestreams. You may not be at a concert with your 50 new friends, but you will definitely feel like a part of something bigger.

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Based in London, UK, Kristina Spencer is a versatile freelance writer, editor, and producer, boasting a portfolio that i...Read More

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