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Finding home 15,000 km away

Last year, 15 per cent of approximately 4,800 undergraduate students in the Faculty of Engineering were international, coming from nearly 60 countries. Electrical engineering student Shaun Lee, from Kuching, Malaysia, was one of them.

You might not think two cities that are nearly 15,000 km apart have much in common, but according to Shaun Lee, you’d be surprised.

The 19-year-old from Kuching, Malaysia, describes his hometown as “laid-back, like Canada,” and full of nature, which played a major role in figuring out where he wanted to pursue his academic career. He also had a chance to visit the country when he attended his older brother’s university graduation ceremony, who also studied Engineering.

“I chose McMaster University because there’s a lot of nature, a lot of clubs and societies, and most importantly, there’s support,” says Lee. “I chose Canada because of its reputation and openness worldwide. It reminds me of home in the sense that it’s open and friendlier than most [countries].”

Shaun Lee and brother.

But his absolute favourite thing about Canada?

“The choices of food, especially poutine.”

Poutine, a dish originating from Québec that has become an icon in Canadian cuisine, consists of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, but other toppings can be included if you’re feeling creative.

The Engineering 1 student says finding a core group of friends also helped him feel more comfortable in a foreign country, but that building a relationship with the most important person in your life is also crucial to not just adapting, but thriving.

That person, Lee says, is yourself. 

“Having a group of good friends is important,” says Lee, “but you also have to find yourself and what you truly want out of your university experience… You have to grow individually as a person.”

Shaun Lee.

Lee says that first-year university students should consider their first semester as a “tryout” when meeting new people, and that mingling with various social cliques and groups helped him have a better sense of who he wanted to share his university experience with.

When Lee isn’t spending time with friends, in class or studying at the library, he takes advantage of everything campus has to offer. One of his favourite places to go when he needs to clear his mind is Cootes Paradise, a popular marsh on campus owned and managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens, where he goes for nature walks.

He’s also part of the Solar Car Project, an undergraduate student initiative that builds and races electric vehicles powered by the sun, and enjoys working out at the gym, using the free rock climbing wall at McMaster Recreationand doing martial arts, especially Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

“There’s a lot of facilities at McMaster,” says Lee. “There really is something for everyone.”


Want to more Journey to McMaster Engineering stories? Read our feature story.