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Located in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, York University is, unsurprisingly, the home away from home for many (nearly 6,000) international students. Attending York means not only the chance to experience Toronto but also the opportunity to learn about other cultures through exchanges, internships and summer-abroad courses. You can even learn a new language by choosing from the huge assortment of language courses offered by York.
A friend of mine, Shenique Turner, was an international student who spent her time at York taking advantage of the tons of opportunities offered through the university (making her friends insanely jealous in the process). Shen arrived in Canada in the summer of 2009 from St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, ready to pursue her Specialized Honours Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies. She graduated in October 2013 with a specialized BES in Environmental Management (one of the four areas of concentration from which upper-year BES students must choose).
I decided to ask Shenique a few questions to learn what her university experience was like as an international student in Toronto, and also to gain some insight into what YU has to offer to its students in general. Here are her answers in her own words.
Why choose Toronto?
I chose Toronto because it is known to be the most diverse city in Canada. The prospect of being able to engage with multiple ethnicities and to learn in such a rich cultural environment was very appealing. I knew that studying in Toronto meant that I would also have access to the many attractions and entertainments that came with living in a big city.
Why did you choose York U specifically?
I knew York had a large international community, and being situated in a multicultural environment also meant that I would be interacting with students from varying backgrounds. I was also attracted by the very warm and friendly approach from staff I interacted with prior to applying. The fact that York is a self-contained university with so many services available on campus was also a selling factor. My program, being unique in its focus on interdisciplinary learning, as well as funding opportunities for international students, were other aspects that contributed to York being my top choice.
What was your first year at York like?
My first year of university was very exciting. I thought that I would be homesick, but instead I found that there was so much happening at York that my first year ended up being my best year. For me everything was so new. Being in a small program meant that I had managed to meet two friends in my very first week who are still close friends of mine today. In addition, living in residence meant that I had the opportunity to get involved in activities planned by my don. Don Kristal played an integral part in helping me adjust, since she would always check in when I was missing from house events. She would also tell me about any events on campus that she thought would be relevant, and she helped me navigate the York services and the entire campus really quickly. I met many friends in my first year of residence, most in upper years, and in general they imparted knowledge which helped me adjust quickly. The community atmosphere in residence, with friendly staff all around, was welcoming. I felt so at home that I decided to return to residence. In addition, my advisor and staff in my faculty helped to make the transition easier by providing course advice and support throughout the term.
What are your thoughts on your program?
I liked the fact that Environmental Studies offered me the opportunity to learn from multiple perspectives. With faculty members having expertise in a wide range of subject areas, I was able to experience learning focused on the big picture. I was never restricted to one area of study but could diversify my degree as much as I liked. I took classes in Tropical Conservation, Environmental Politics, HIV and Globalization; conducted a major thesis; and carried out practical projects in courses such as Environmental Auditing. I remember doing my auditing project on pedestrian safety on construction sites, where I had to make observations and recommendations, interview stakeholders on campus and more. In addition, there was flexibility to take electives in Caribbean Geography and from the Music Department. This interdisciplinary approach to learning is paramount to Environmental Studies and to so many other programs at York. My program provided me with the perfect opportunity to graduate as a well-rounded student through the opportunity to choose my own individualized education path. In addition, my program being a small one meant that I was able to work in small team settings and to really interact with other students, my professors and staff in the faculty.
What kinds of opportunities did you receive at York?
I got involved in numerous ways, including working on campus as an International Recruitment Ambassador. I also worked for some time in undergraduate residence as a residence porter and don. In addition, I was able to secure funding through the York International Internship Program, which saw me interning at the Caño Palma Biological Station in Costa Rica as a sea turtle research assistant for 3 months. Here, I was able to contribute to conservation efforts while learning from the local community in a setting that allowed me to put some of what I had learned in my classes into practice in the real world. [During her time there, Shen also wrote some really great stuff for her blog . . . Noventa Días en Costa Rica (meaning “Ninety Days in Costa Rica”) – be sure to check it out!] I was also able to gain valuable work experience as a Liaison and Database Assistant in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies after graduation. York equipped me with a multifaceted educational background that prepared me for further work in my field. [She’s particularly interested in waste management. For more information on possible career paths for Environmental Studies majors, click here.]
Some useful links to learn more about what else York has to offer:
- Glendon Campus – our bilingual campus (my home campus!) where you can obtain a university degree after becoming proficient in both English and French (some people even take Spanish at this campus and obtain a trilingual degree). It’s also only 20 minutes away from downtown Toronto.
- Schulich School of Business in Hyderabad, India – an exciting chance to spend the first year of your MBA in India and the second year in Toronto! Learn more from the Schulich India blog.
- The opportunity to internationalize your degree – Be sure to check out my fellow blogger Kren’s amazing post on how to add an international component to your degree.
- Summer Abroad Courses
- York International Tumblr – Photos taken by/of York U students participating in exchange, study abroad, internship or independent global learning initiatives.
Questions/comments? Let us know in the comments below!