Karen Piper
The Silhouette

In 1492, Christopher Columbus embarked on a journey to find a new route for British trade ships to sail to India. However, he inadvertently ended up crossing the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to the New World: the Caribbean Islands and the Americas. Columbus was astonished to discover that that these minute islands were already inhabited.

Like Columbus many times in life we set forth on a journey with a specific goal or destination in mind, but some unexpected obstacle may alter our original course, thereby leading us to stumble upon something even more fascinating and worthwhile.

This is exactly what happened to me when I commenced my academic journey. I had everything strategically planned.

I am from the beautiful island of Saint Lucia, which is known as a world-renowned wedding and honeymoon destination. I decided to pursue an associate degree in Travel and Tourism at the island’s community college. Well, I am sure you have heard industry professionals claim that no amount of classroom theory compares to practical training, and they are quite right. After completing two internships at leading five star resorts on the island, I decided that this field was not right for me.

In 2011, through the help of an island scholarship, I began an entirely new educational experience: pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance at the City University of New York (CUNY). Prior to this event, I worked at a bank in Saint Lucia for two years. It was at then I discovered my love for the banking and finance industries. At this point you may be wondering why I am enrolled at McMaster University in 2013.

Along the way, I soon realized that life in New York as a student did not correlate with my personality or lifestyle. Now, before you judge me, let me just say that – like many emblazoned shirts – I love New York. But being a student there means costly travel expenses due to long train rides to and from school, not to mention the burden of finding accommodations as the majority of universities there do not offer campus housing.

My fundamental point here is that life is all about finding out what works best for YOU. After all, it is YOUR life.  This is why I made the decision to enroll at McMaster University.

It occurred to me that this is the opportune time to travel and obtain a diverse educational profile. It is true that I struggled to fit into the culture of New York; however, being in such an environment forced me to grow both personally and intellectually. As a result, I am a much better manager of time and money.

At the end of the day, I feel as if I am three people in one: Saint Lucian of course, a former New Yorker and now, up-and-coming Canadian.  Moreover, when potential employers recognize that you have studied or lived in multiple countries, they ultimately establish that you are a risk-taker and someone who can adapt swiftly to change, being able to handle uncertainty. A valuable asset.

As young people we need to exploit the advantages that our youth affords us. We should dare to learn of new cultures: music, fashion, art, dance and so forth. It is not always about where you end up, but the experiences and the wealth of knowledge acquired along the way. In addition, during these occurrences, we should also be respectful of cultural diversity and various ethnic traditions. This is how we develop our character and learn from each other. Some of you may be thinking of doing an exchange program in which you attend school in Italy or France or wherever.

Go for it. This occasion will change your outlook on life and expand your comfort zone beyond where you thought possible. We don’t grow when we are comfortable or stagnant. There is an entire globe out there, explore it, cherish it, respect it, and use it to your full advantage. The world is your oyster.

And mine as well.

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