Growing up Waterloo

Friday, February 3, 2017

Cynthia Cheng and family

Back row: Anthony Fok (BMath '80), Stephanie Cheng (BMath '08), Cynthia Cheng (BSc '10), Iris Leung (BA '08), Keith Cheng (BMath '77), Gabriel Cheng (BSE '17) Front row: Anna Fok (BA '80), Joseph Leung (BMath '79), Alan Cheng (BMath '84), Lucilla Cheng (BMath '77)

Written by Cynthia Cheng (BSc '10)

I was born a Warrior.  For math alumni, it means in a sample size of 36 family members, 42% of my extended family and 100% of my immediate family are Waterloo alumni.  For AHS alumni, it means I am unstoppable. 

As a teenage rebel, I fought tooth and nail to go anywhere but UWaterloo. I was under the impression that you were defined by where you got your degree, not what you did with it. But alas, UWaterloo kinesiology boasted a first year cadaver lab and I was sold.

Like many Bachelor of Science graduates, I quickly realized life would be tough without a few more letters attached to my name.  MD? PhD? MBA? Mrs.?? I decided to go to bed. B.Ed that is.  Starting my string of controversial life choices, I chose to go to teacher’s college.  Not because I loved children, not even because I wanted to be a teacher. But because I knew the skills I learned there would be transferrable and indispensable to whatever career I chose in the future.

Turns out having a teaching degree and a Canadian passport does wonders for the lost soul. I traveled the world to fulfil my duty as a living cliché: to find myself.  I used my teaching skills to fund these adventures, along with the kindness of strangers and pure luck. A 500 word restriction limits my storytelling, but trust me, they’re good.

Which brings me to the present; after several years of traveling to war torn, poverty stricken and disaster affected countries, the social justice warrior in me decided to go back to school. I was inspired by my degrees in kinesiology and education and I applied to an online Masters of Public Health program, which gave me the freedom to continue traveling.

So here I am in Vientiane, Laos.  On a 6 month volunteer

Cynthia at an animal hospital
mission with Veterinarians Without Borders.  I work at the National University of Laos as an English consultant with the Faculty of Agriculture.  I help develop research proposals for international funding towards zoonosis, food security and agricultural practice research. International volunteering was a tough decision to make, but in the end, I am living my dream. Immersing myself in new cultures has helped me develop into somebody I’m proud of, and opened up both social and professional opportunities that I would have never had in Canada. I’ve taken an unconventional career path, but I’d like to think I’ve lived up to the family legacy.

I was asked to give advice for future grads: When faced with a tough decision, ask yourself “Why not?” If the answer isn’t death or jail, go for it.