Commentary Feature

Atlantic Canada Is A Great Place For International Students. I Should Know, I Am One.

Diana Chavez, Huddle intern (Cherise Letson/Huddle).

When I stepped out of the plane that brought me to Fredericton in 2017, I felt like Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. I stood there for a second, shocked, looking at the smallest airport I had seen in my life. Had it been worth it crossing a whole continent for this?

With an impression like that, I can understand why international students feel worried about coming to study in New Brunswick. I have to say though, I don’t regret my decision one bit. I even think sometimes I was meant to come here.

I came to Canada from Ecuador two years ago because I wanted something more – to study abroad, experience other cultures, and have a world-class education in a language other than my native one.

My parents were, and still are, my biggest fans and supporters. They encouraged me to chase my dreams and pursue my goals from the get-go.

After considering schools from four countries – including the United States – we decided that Canada would be the best option for me for different reasons: the welcoming environment for immigrants, the option of working during the school year and the summer, and the possibility of staying after graduation to enter the Canadian workforce.

My parents were straightforward. They told me they couldn’t afford to pay more than $13,000 per year. So, after doing all sorts of research – which involved my dad bringing 36 questions to a meeting with my admissions counsellor and going to university fairs – we decided that St. Thomas University (STU) in New Brunswick would be a good fit for me.

To say that I was scared was an understatement. I had a meltdown a week before coming to a city in Canada that wasn’t a city to me – considering my city’s population is two-million and Fredericton’s is around 60,000 – and to a school that didn’t appear in the first twenty spots of QS university rankings. Was I making a smart move? Would I regret it?

August 30 marks two years that I’ve been in Canada and I wouldn’t change a thing about the odyssey this journey of discovering myself in another country has been.

During my first summer in Fredericton, I was able to get an internship at STU’s International Office through the SEED Program, a government-led initiative where students get a minimum-wage subsidy that allows them to work full-time at a private or non-profit organization for 12 to 14 weeks. That experience opened doors for me and gave me a part-time job on campus during my second year at school.

Flash-forward to my second summer in Fredericton: I got an internship with Huddle, an online business publication that covers New Brunswick and the Maritimes. My internship was funded through FutureReadyNB, which allows students in New Brunswick post-secondary institutions to gain meaningful professional experience in their field while earning a salary. In 2018, the provincial government made a $5 million investment distributed between institutions in New Brunswick after the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) advocated for it for two years.

My job with Huddle opened even more doors for me. I received extensive mentorship in my career field. My team gave me trust, patience, and was confident in my capabilities – even if I doubted them myself sometimes – and my ability to learn. The fact that an independent news organization adopted me and made me feel like one of their own for a whole summer, pushed my limits and provided me with an insight of the media industry is something I feel would only happen in a province like New Brunswick.

I wrote 36 articles for Huddle this summer. Through those 36 different stories, I’ve met all sorts of people – from Fredericton’s mayor to entrepreneurs with crazy ideas, to immigrants who were brave enough to start a new life in this province, to the federal minister of small businesses and export promotion. Now, even Fredericton’s member of parliament, Matt DeCourcey, recognizes me at events.

Want to keep talking about opening doors?

As I enter my third year of school, I also begin my third internship: news editor of my university’s newspaper, The Aquinian. I am more than sure this experience will open doors – and windows, while we’re at it – as well.

As every academic year goes by, my parents have had to pay less and less for my expenses in Canada. My summer efforts – coupled with a big scholarship that STU offered me when I applied – have allowed me to pay for rent and groceries during the summer, a bit of tuition for the school year, and cover the cost of my textbooks and entertainment (because what university student doesn’t go out every once in a while?).

I see it as a win-win situation for everyone: I contribute to New Brunswick’s economy, and New Brunswick contributes to my future (and my economy, too).

So, excuse me while I ignore the Sandra Bullocks in the world as I build my future in the province that has become my second home.