Students in Montreal's colleges are settling into regular routines in what for many of them is their first time living on their own.

The culture shock for Inuit students coming from the Far North is much greater than for students heading downtown from the suburbs.

Sapina Snowball, in her final semester at John Abbott College in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, says everything is feeling somewhat alien to her.

"I'm stuck in two worlds right now," said Snowball.

Part of her is focused on studying and socializing with fellow students. The rest is thinking about her home town of Kangiqsualujuaq in Nunavik.

"My family is there. Of course I want to spend time with them, or the other me wants to stay here," she said.

No options in Far North

Inuit who want to attend post-secondary education almost certainly must leave home: there are no schools of higher learning in northern Quebec, and only one college in each of Canada's three territories.

Counsellor Gail Richardson says the homesickness takes a severe toll.

"Just being away from home, facing severe homesickness, being away from family and friends, being away from the land, the villages... It's a completely different life," said Richardson.

Melissa Ruston, who is set to graduate this year, knows the challenges all too well.

Back in Nunavik she was a top student.

"I was like the best in the class," said Ruston. "Sorry to brag but I always got the academic achievement, outstanding effort." At John Abbott she's maintaining a 70 per cent average.

"Oh my goodness its very challenging, especially the educational system up north is very low, it's very limited.

"When I came down here, I had to work twice as much," said Ruston.

Her twin brother could not handle the transition and dropped out.

Last year eight of the 21 Inuit students at John Abbott did the same.

So far this year, one student left after just a few days.

Helping students cope

John Abbott is a leader in helping aboriginal students adapt to life in the south.

First-year Inuit students must stay in a residence exclusively for aboriginal students, and they have free access to a resource centre staffed by Louise Legault.

"This room in itself is a place where they can do homework, use the computers, eat lunch meet their friends," said Legault.

They are also required to take two courses geared to improve their basic academic skills, improve their English, and helping them choose a career path.

"There's a lot of support," said Ruston. "They give us tips and advice on how to write essays. They give us tutors if we need any."

Students come back

While many students fail to thrive during their first exposure to urban life and rush back home, many do return.

Raingi Uquaituk first attempted to study at John Abbott in 1999, but dropped out when she became pregnant.

A decade later, and with a second baby at home, Uquaituk is back and determined to finish what she started.

"It's not really easy, especially when I got pregnant and I had to stop for what I was doing, but I always come back," she said.

Uquaituk is due to graduate in December, having finally accomplished what she could not do back home.