Diversity, foodies' paradise, equality - why an exchange programme at the University of Toronto is so worth it

By Yusuf Rafique, Year 4, Department of Systems Engineering and Engineering Management, City University of Hong Kong

On an exchange trip to Toronto, a CityU student found that Canadian culture is all about embracing diversity

By Yusuf Rafique, Year 4, Department of Systems Engineering and Engineering Management, City University of Hong Kong |

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City University’s exchange programme at the University of Toronto allows students to discover new cultures.

During my studies at City University, I had the opportunity to go on an exchange programme to the University of Toronto in Canada for four months. It has been one of the most wonderful parts of my undergraduate degree so far.

What did I experience in those four months? Everything from staying in a dingy motel and checking out a haunted house to building a social circle from scratch and trying Ethiopian food.

Toronto is an immigrant city with people from all corners of the globe, and the St George campus of the University of Toronto is right in the centre of town, making it very accessible. The diversity of students at the university made every day special. I met people from Brazil, Ecuador, the Caribbean, Somalia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Mauritius, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan and China – people from all backgrounds and cultures. Everyone I met had a unique story to share, and listening to them made me think about my own life and how I, too, was different and unique.

Food is one of the best ways to understand a culture and its people; it is also the best way to bond with people. And Toronto is a food paradise. I tried so many cuisines that I haven’t found in Hong Kong. I went to an Ethiopian restaurant and tried vegetable stews with injera, a kind of bread that is a national dish. I tried Caribbean roti, which is similar to an Indian bread, wrapped with meat and potatoes. I also ate “kosher” – food that Jews can eat, similar to “halal” for Muslims – for the first time.

Toronto has some unique cultural districts. There is a China Town, which feels just like Mong Kok with its numerous signboards and smells of hot pot. There is a Korea Town, a Jewish section with kosher restaurants, a South Asian area with Indian-Pakistani shops and eateries, and a Persian area with kebab stations. Every culture finds its place in Toronto. Walking through each quarter made me feel like I was in that country and not in Toronto.

Canadians are unique in that they have a common set of values that they hold on to, but at the same time they let people from different countries practise their traditions and customs .

By interacting with different people and listening to their ideas, you can expand your mindset and world view. Canada taught me the value of accepting and living with a multitude of cultures and traditions while maintaining equality and freedom.

Edtied by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge