My bus ride from my small town to high school was an hour. I dreaded getting up at 7 am everyday and I felt like an outsider. I couldn’t wait to be finished so I could move to the big city of Edmonton.
My sister encouraged me to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree. I discovered I didn’t have the math grades to get accepted, so I registered in an accelerated summer school course in Edmonton through Metro Continuing Education and crammed an entire math course into 4 weeks. Not the most exciting summer, but I was accepted that fall to MacEwan’s Bachelor of Commerce program.
My first year living in Edmonton was great. The social aspect of meeting new people and getting involved in student clubs was a welcome change to my life in rural Northern Alberta. In my first year I joined the Aboriginal Students Club. Joining this club gave me a real sense of home because I could talk openly about my experiences in post-secondary from an Indigenous perspective and be understood and supported.
I’ve always been a runner. I ran cross-country in junior high and high school, so I decided to try out for the cross-country team. I went in thinking everyone already knew each other but that wasn’t the case. We were all different ages, in different programs, and from diverse backgrounds. We connected over a shared love of running, and became good friends, all because of one common interest.
There are loads of other ways to connect with your peers and find common ground. Join an athletics team, get on student council, volunteer, write for the school newspaper, join a study group, or you can start your own club. I hope this post eases any worry about making friends in post-secondary and inspires you to get involved and enrich your campus experience.
Socially I was doing well but I didn’t enjoy any of the courses in my commerce program. I know now that this was a fault in my planning process. Although I had the determination to further my education, I didn’t think about who I was or what I was good at before choosing a program. The program was focused on developing business knowledge, so many of the courses required math, not my best subject. As the year progressed, I found myself thinking, yet again, get me out of here!
Restless and unsatisfied with my program, I began looking for opportunities to experience something new. I spent the following year participating in 2 exchange programs that involved travelling to 6 different countries, Northern Ireland, Japan, Singapore, India, Kenya and Mauritius.
During my global adventures abroad, I developed a better understanding of my interests and motivations. Not long after my return to Edmonton I decided to change my program of study to a Bachelor of Arts in International Development.
Just before the final year of my degree, I seriously needed a break, but I didn’t want to fall behind. I applied for a year-long internship with the provincial government to keep me moving towards achieving my academic and professional goals. An internship is a temporary, entry-level position that emphasizes on-the-job training for new professionals. Internships can be paid or unpaid for students or recent graduates.
My paid internship was with the Crime Prevention Division in the Ministry of the Solicitor General. I was assigned to the Restorative Justice Program which focuses on rehabilitating offenders, reconciling with victims and the community and repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour. It aligns with Indigenous values and traditions giving me a sense of connection to my Indigenous roots. I also had the opportunity to work in First Nations Government as a policy intern for 3 months working with several departments including policy, health and social services, government services, natural resources, legal counsel, and the offices of the Chief and Chief Administrative Officer. This opportunity enabled me to get a better sense of what it’s like to work for government, and to learn about the different career opportunities that exist for public servants (people who work for the government).
There is no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision to take a year off school to pursue an internship. The mentors and friends I made along the way significantly expanded my network, which expanded my prospects both academically and professionally. I also gained concrete work experience to put on my resume, and I got a much-needed break from school. I returned to complete my final year refreshed and motivated, with even more future opportunities.
Post-secondary opens a world of opportunities, you may face obstacles, doubt your decisions, and realize you need to make a completely different plan. Get out there and challenge yourself to seek out new experiences, you could accomplish things you can’t even imagine.
Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.
How I turned an essay into a free trip
A former professor sent me a link to an essay competition organized by Foreign Affairs Canada specifically for Aboriginal students studying towards a bachelor’s degree at a Canadian post-secondary institution. The essay topic was a discussion on Aboriginal peoples’ contribution to Canada’s international relations.
The first prize was an all expenses paid trip to Ottawa to meet with senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs, followed by a trip to a major international conference of the winners choosing. Earlier that semester I'd written a paper with a similar topic, my research was done, and the application essay was easy. I didn’t hear anything for months then an email from Foreign Affairs Canada landed in my inbox. I won! The email listed the international conferences – I chose the farthest conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Events were organized, flights and hotel booked, and I was off to Ottawa. The first day of day I presented my essay at the Foreign Affairs Canada headquarters. Then I met with an Indigenous Senator, took a tour of Parliament, and visited the National Gallery of Canada. Next, I was off to Geneva. The cost of that hotel was more than 3 months of my rent.
I joined the Canadian delegation for a conference on the rights of Indigenous peoples at the United Nations. It was inspiring to meet Indigenous people from around the globe who were so passionate about their work in global affairs. I felt incredibly fortunate to be in attendance. I took a chance entering that essay competition, it paid off and changed my life.
I moved to Australia for an internship that didn’t happen
As my first degree in international development was ending, I hoped to gain some work experience in a different country. I decided that an internship would be a great way to travel and gain work experience in my chosen field.
Having recently won a Foreign Affairs Canada essay competition, I decided to focus my search on internships offered at Canadian embassies. One that stuck out to me was an internship with the High Commission of Canada in the Australian capital of Canberra (High Commission is also known as an Embassy). It seemed perfect, a paid internship that would start a few weeks after my last semester of school. Plus, a good friend from an earlier exchange program lived in Canberra and said I could stay in her spare room. I was stoked!
Applying was easy, I just had to submit my resume, cover letter, 2 letters of recommendation, then participate in a phone interview. My first letter was from an organizer of the essay competition that I had won. For my second letter I asked one of my professors who had experience in the Foreign Service. When I told him I was applying for an internship at the High Commission in Canberra he told me he was a former employee. He sent my letter of recommendation directly to Australia because he still had contacts.
At this point, I was feeling confident that I’d be the top candidate for the internship, so I decided to head down to Australia right after my semester finished. I hadn’t secured the internship yet, but the beautiful weather, beaches and sightseeing kept me positive. Days after I arrived, I was rejected for the internship. I was floored – there I was halfway around the world, finished school, with no job, not a lot of money and most frightening of all, no plan.
There wasn’t much time to feel sorry for myself. I needed to figure out what I was going to do, and fast. I was already in Australia and had entered the country with a working visa, so I decided to stay and find a job, any job. It didn’t take long to find work as a server at a local restaurant. They liked my accent, thought it was exotic. Minimum wage in Australia is way higher than in Alberta and I found myself making a lot more money than I would have at the internship. I stayed until my visa expired. It worked out and I learned a lot about the value of maintaining an open and positive outlook.
I’d gotten a little comfortable getting everything I wanted, and I needed that rejection to give me a reality check. On the plus side, with all the extra money I was making as a server, I got to travel around Australia a lot more than if I’d been a broke intern. In the end, it all worked out, but it took me a while to come to terms with that rejection and turn it into a positive opportunity.
Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:
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Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.
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