Anyone who remembers what it’s like to be in high school can sympathize with the agony of having to decide what to do next, and where. For students who are considering pursuing their post-secondary degree overseas, the decisions are magnified. How does it feel to be so far away from your support system at such a young age, and in a new culture? Is it exciting? Overwhelming?
For fourth-year Biotechnology student Amy Chow, it was both.
The Barbados native began boarding school in St. Catharines, ON, when she was just 16-years-old, and had friends from home nearby. That helped her feel “a little less homesick” in her transition from high school to McMaster University, but the feelings of apprehension were still alive, especially during Welcome Week.
But Chow wanted a challenge.
Having slept in during one of the mornings of Welcome Week, Chow was running late for one of the most anticipated events of the week. Someone grabbed her hand and ran her across a football field so she could make it on time. She doesn’t know who they were; the furry mascot costume enveloping them made it hard to tell.
The moment likely escaped the minds of onlookers shortly after the event, but for Chow, it was the turning point that allowed her to relax — she made the right decision. She hasn’t looked back since.
Poised to graduate in December, Chow completed four months of a co-op term in Barbados, where she worked at a microbiology and chemical company. The co-op allowed her to gain experience carrying out quality control procedures for restaurants by testing food and beverages for bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria.
“I gained communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills,” says Chow. “I never had experience working with customers, and was really shy to talk to them and meeting people. But it was different; a new experience. Co-op was my first real job experience, and it was really cool.”
She also pursued eight months of co-op as a research assistant in Burlington, ON, and says that the courses she took in microbiology helped her understand more about bacteria-causing diseases and how to identify various strands of bacteria.
Chow’s love of research is what initially attracted her to McMaster Engineering and says that the Biotechnology program helped prepare her to work towards creating solutions for real-world problems.
Chow says that one of the best things about her co-op terms, which were “equally invigorating,” was having the ability to experience the best of both worlds in microbiology and chemistry.
The skills she gained and memories she made from co-op are just some of the accomplishments that made Chow’s decision to study at McMaster Engineering worth the challenges that came along with being an international student.
Her advice to incoming international students is to make the effort to meet new people, because “they become your family.”
Coming to Canada at a young age wasn’t easy for Chow, but the sense of achievement now that she’s close to graduation and the family of friends she’s built makes jumping over hurdles worth it.
Like most graduating students, Chow doesn’t know exactly what her plan is once she leaves McMaster, but says that one thing is clear: she wants to remain in Canada.
“I love Canada,” says Chow. “My favourite part of Canada is the spring and the smell of fresh air.”
Update: After graduating from BTech in December 2019, Amy is set to begin a Master of Chemical Engineering degree at McGill University.