Navigating the grocery aisles was a challenge for Khousmita Gopaul when she moved to P.E.I. from Mauritius in 2016.

Understanding labels, finding the best deals — even just knowing where the hot peppers are kept.

That's why Gopaul was helping to guide fellow international students at UPEI through a local grocery store on Tuesday.

"When I first came here it was very difficult," she says. "I only bought frozen food, enough for a month, it was horrible and I was craving for fresh food."

The students chose the Charlottetown Superstore to take advantage of Tuesday's 10 per cent student discount. Groceries can be expensive for any student on a budget, and finding deals is especially important to foreign students who may not get a favourable exchange rate.

One Canadian dollar, for example, is equal to 27 Mauritian rupees, Gopaul's native currency.

"You can imagine how expensive it is for me to be here, pay for tuition and buy everything, so I need to be careful," she said.

Grocery stores can be a foreign country for international students

Khousmita Gopaul of Mauritius helps Altaf Hossan from Bangladesh shop for groceries at the Charlottetown Superstore. (Karen Mair )

The Chinese students agree that the currency exchange makes their groceries seem expensive, so learning how and where to shop is helpful, they say.

Chicken curry

Business student Jing Huang of China finds grocery stores in Canada colourful and organized, but the products are different. 

'I feel coming here, living alone, makes me more independent I find I grow up.' Jing Huang

"What I really miss is the food, but the good thing is we also have Asian food stores on the Island so if I miss food from home I can shop there and cook it myself," she says.

Finding the right foods can also be a challenge.

Tuesday night, three male students from Bangladesh who just started at UPEI last week cruise right past the produce section. Gopaul and the other volunteers have fun teasing them. They prod them to add fruits and veggies to their shopping cart of pop, brownies, chocolate milk and — because the store was out of halal — organic chicken.

Grocery stores can be a foreign country for international students

UPEI economics major Jiahui Huang picks up some greens to cook at home. (Karen Mair )

Farhan Nayeem of Bangladesh says he's looking for rice, eggs, chili, noodles and drinks. He says he'll make chicken curry and egg fry. The big challenge, he says, is the chilies.

Someone shows him a bag of dry chilies, but they won't do. In the produce section there is one type of fresh, green chili. The students from Bangladesh are suspicious.

Different chilies

"Yes, they're hot," Gopaul assures them.

Nayeem looks at her and the peppers.

The chilies are not like the ones from home but they go in the cart for a taste test.  

It's all part of the learning experience.

"I feel coming here, living alone, makes me more independent," Huang says. "I find I grow up."