Reflecting on the International Student Experience

By Sydney Stype (CDP Alumna, 2020)

This week, we invited international alumna Sydney Stype to reflect on her experiences as an international student in the Faculty of Information.

Being an American going to grad school in Canada may not seem like a huge adjustment, but it was more difficult than I had anticipated. I am fortunate to not have had the culture shock that people from other parts of the world have, but it was still a lot to handle. One moment, I would be in a conversation with a group of Canadians, fitting in, and then the conversation would take a turn. I didn’t understand a reference or I didn’t know a well-known fact, and suddenly I was sticking out like a sore thumb. It was quite jarring, and it would leave me feeling like an outsider. The longer I have lived in Canada, the less this occurred.

Moving here by myself was a challenge. After taking a year and a half off between undergrad and grad school, I was worried I didn’t remember how to make friends. I was fortunate to have people in my first year classes that were brave enough to turn to me and introduce themselves. I made a few friends, gaining the confidence to join a few clubs and volunteer at Information Days. Suddenly, I was introduced to all sorts of people from different concentrations and backgrounds, both academically and culturally. I loved hearing about what my classmates were learning in their UXD and ISD courses, but was still too scared to take these courses. They sounded so technical and scary. I would never be able to keep up and succeed, right?

Sydney with friends and colleagues from the Faculty of Information.

This is imposter syndrome and it is unfortunately going to be a large part of not just your academic life, but also your professional life. Every single person at the iSchool I have spoken to has had doubts about their abilities; even the staff and faculty feel like this! It’s okay to feel like this, but know that it is not true. You were accepted into one of the best universities not just in Canada, but in the world! It was not a mistake, you didn’t slip through the cracks, or whatever that little voice may be telling you. You are going to find the right place for you, and it starts here.

As a CDP student, I was fortunate enough to have three years and more opportunities than most students to take courses at the iSchool. Even with that extra time, there are dozens of classes I am sad I don’t get to take. Every concentration and program can be applied to every class, so my advice is to take risks and try something brand new to you. Who knows, you may find a new passion! Even if it isn’t your cup of tea, I find that it is incredibly helpful to learn what you don’t like. No matter what, you are learning.

As a recent alum of the Faculty of Information, I miss it already. You are surrounded by the most passionate students, faculty, and staff you could ask for. It may seem cliché, but it is really like a family. I smile every time I look at the two degrees on my wall, thinking about all the friends I made and amazing memories I have. Enjoy every second of your time at the iSchool, even if it isn’t what you initially thought it would be. 

Photos provided by Sydney Stype.

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