Growing up in India, Aryan knew he wanted to study abroad. In high school, he imagined himself at a school in North America—somewhere he’d never been. He’d heard about Waterloo, a school known as much for its diversity as its extensive co-op program, and his mind was set. “I knew this is where I wanted to be,” says Aryan. “It meant I would finish my degree with real-world experience. When you read about the hiring rates of Waterloo graduates, it’s hard to compare with other schools.”
But coming to Waterloo took more than marks and a desire to learn. It also meant boarding an 18-hour flight, leaving behind friends and family and the comfort of high school. “It wasn’t easy, and there were moments I worried I’d made the wrong decision,” says Aryan, now in his second year studying economics and political science.
And then it snowed.
“It was the first snowfall of the season, and there were a bunch of us in residence who’d never seen or felt real snow,” says Aryan. So a bunch of them donned boots and coats and ventured out into the snowy night, shooting videos to send back home. “It was intense. I remember feeling lonely, so far from home, and then suddenly this surge of exhilaration came over me. I was, halfway around the world, the first person in my family to feel snow. I knew I had to make the most of my experience. And it felt good.”
Making the transition from high school to university can seem daunting, especially for international students like Aryan. “I didn’t expect to see so many foreign students, but then Canada is so diverse,” says Aryan. This gave him the chance to meet people from all different backgrounds.
Beyond adapting to a new country and university-level work, there’s the pressure to meet friends and fit in. “Waterloo really helped make me feel welcome,” says Aryan, who joined his residence’s Living-Learning community, an Arts-led group that helps first-year students with their transition into university life.
In addition to joining the Living-Learning community, Aryan also volunteered as an Arts ambassador and is currently the vice-president of the Political Science Students’ Association. “University is more than classes and co-op,” says Aryan. “I’ve met so many people through these groups. We have study sessions. We go to football matches and out for dinner. Sometimes you think you’re the only one feeling stressed out, and for me, it was helpful to know other people feel the same way, and that we can help each other out.”
It was through these experiences that Aryan built the confidence to run for a position in the undergrad senate. The two-tier election requires each candidate to have 100 votes to qualify for voting. “I remember thinking, Do I even know 100 people?” says Aryan. He got the votes, but didn’t win. “That experience made me realize how important it is to get out there and meet people. I got to know 100 students and made lots of friends and connections. I take this as a big win.”
Aryan also found first-year courses to be highly interactive, with team-building exercises that made it easy to meet people. Likewise, he attended his professors’ office hours whenever possible. “I made sure my professors knew me,” he says. “These small actions helped me feel at home.”
Waterloo also helps students prepare for co-op positions, by holding mock job interviews. “This made a big difference in helping me gain my spot at OLG,” says Aryan, now on his first co-op placement, with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Association. Working as a cloud-operations analyst, Aryan is helping OLG improve the software it uses to serve its customers’ needs.
Merging technology with business needs and customers is a challenging job. It’s also a great example of the value of studying arts and business. “As sophisticated as technology has become, it’s still people who use it. Business is as much about numbers as it is about people and how we communicate.”
It’s something he looks forward to thinking about as he continues his studies and ventures into new co-op placements. “I’d love to work in banking, maybe somewhere in Toronto,” he says. “I love the big buildings and opportunities available, and that I’d be living in such a diverse country. This is where I want to be.”