Claudia is an Arts and Business student in her 4A term. She is also one of the 2020 International Live Chat hosts. Here is what she had to say about her experience at Waterloo.
Why did you choose the University of Waterloo?
Some of my Toronto relatives suggested I check out Canadian universities, including my uncle who told me that Waterloo was a very good school. When I saw the University website, I realized it was the place for me because of all resources for international students and how many opportunities the Arts faculty offered. After that, I applied. When I was accepted shortly afterwards, it felt like UWaterloo was the place for me all along.
When you received your offer of admission, how did you celebrate your success?
I remember getting my acceptance email during my high school English class. I was sitting beside some of my friends and I got really excited when I saw the headline: “Congratulations…”. I immediately celebrated with my friends and called my parents shortly after.
Before you arrived, what worried you about coming?
Most of my friends decided to go to universities in the United States. I was the only one coming to Canada, so my biggest worry was feeling like I was alone.
When I arrived at my residence on the first day, I was extremely nervous and I felt overwhelmed by the big change. These fears, however, started to go away as soon as I met all the people on my floor. I was able to meet a lot of new people with similar interests and hobbies, which made me feel at home. By the end of the week I was celebrating my birthday with friends from my floor and even though I had only met them for a few days, they made my birthday very special.
What did you expect Canada and the University of Waterloo to be like?
Before coming to Canada, I had little knowledge of the country or the culture. When I arrived, I was surprised to see how diverse the Canadian community really is. I had no idea this country was so rich in cultural diversity. I was so happy to meet people from around the world and have the opportunity to learn all about their cultures and lives back home.
Was there anything that surprised you? How so?
I was impressed by how big Orientation is. It was truly an experience being able to see everyone get together and celebrate UWaterloo as a community. I loved being able to see students from all backgrounds and faculties join together to welcome us.
Were there any highlights to your first term at Waterloo?
I was able to make friends everywhere! On my floor, in my program, in my classes, in the clubs I joined, and in any activity I participated in. The moment I met each and every one of the people I now call my friends became a highlight because they have made my time in university so memorable.
What was it like to live and learn in another language?
At home in Honduras I attended a bilingual school, so I was used to learning in English. However, coming to University was my first time living in an English-speaking country and that did impact my transition. During my first couple of weeks in Canada, I would often mix up Spanish (my native tongue) and English. I would accidently say things like “thank you” and “please” in Spanish. But as time passed, I adapted to speaking in English only and building relationships with others in this language.
Did you face any challenges in your first year? If so, how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge in first term was adapting to the time and effort my academics demanded. In high school I could complete an assignment in a couple of days without worrying too much about it, but not in University.
There were many times I felt frustrated because I couldn’t understand a lecture and sometimes I'd give up. However, as the term went by I understood that to succeed I had to give myself time to get used to the classes and the new pace of learning. Being part of a Living Learning Community in residence was a big help because our community would host study groups and the leaders were always available to give support and advice. In the end, I adapted. I was able to manage my course load and truly understand what my classes were all about.
What main differences have you noticed between your home culture and Canadian culture?
One of the main differences between my culture and the Canadian one is the closeness people have between themselves and others around them. Back home in Honduras, people are less aware of their personal space and tend to have less boundaries between themselves and the people they are interacting with. In Latino culture, people are more comfortable with keeping short distances, and being more familiar and/or close with people they have recently met.
What were your experiences like when you returned home?
Going back home the first time after university was very exciting. I was so happy to see my friends and family, and share my experiences with them. It was really interesting to compare and contrast all of my experiences in university to those of my friends.
If you were arriving as a new international student again, what would you do differently, or the same?
I would research the resources offered for international students on campus. Even though I did have some knowledge of the resources available before I arrived, there were a couple that I missed during my first term. If you’re coming to Waterloo this upcoming term, definitely tune into the International Live Chats in June and July because Rania, Nathaneal and I will make sure you know about them.
What is one piece of advice you would share with new Waterloo students?
Find your own balance and try to enjoy university in your own way. Do not feel pressured if you find things not going as planned. Instead, try to overcome the curveballs life hits you with. If your academics aren’t going as you wanted, do not feel discouraged, this is only the start of your time at Unviersity and your career.
What has your experience of studying online been like during COVID-19?
Transitioning to online classes has been a big change for most of us. Personally, my biggest challenge is not being able to connect with my classmates. Throughout my university career, I've received a lot of support from my professors and peers. With classes being online, I've found it more difficult to access that support. However, as the end of the term went by, I learned how to change my learning style to better fit online courses. At the end of the day, it's all about being able to adapt and grow.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Coming to a new country is always a challenge, but it opens the door to a lifetime of opportunities. Take advantage of these next few years and make the most out of them. Good luck Warrior!