“Socialization is very important, so make new friends and understand your new environment”: Interview with Ester Di Maio de Cunha, CC Alumna


Are you starting your first semester at Columbia College? Read what CC alumna Ester has to say about making sure you make the most of your first few months here! Ester moved from Brazil to Vancouver and studied in the University Transfer Program at Columbia College for a year before transferring to SFU in 2016. She recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from SFU and is starting her first year in the Master’s program in Political Science at the same university. 

How did you hear about CC and why did you choose to attend this school?

I remember that I had a very close friend who studied here and she recommended CC because of the excellent staff and professors. CC was the perfect place to start my life in Vancouver.

What was your first impression when you arrived in Vancouver? Of Columbia College?

I really liked Vancouver. The first impression I had from the city was it was a very multicultural environment. We have different cultures living here and you can learn about all of them. The city environment was very approachable so I could develop my English and other skills that were important for me and my career.

The first impression I had from CC was it was a very approachable college. Staff were ready to help me especially during my first weeks. They were very helpful and kind. I met student volunteers who helped me understand my classes and what kinds of requirements were needed to take a class. It helped me feel happy that I made the right decision. Even the stress was less because when you move from another country you have things in mind you’re not sure about, so it was very helpful to meet students at orientation.

What was your favourite class?

My favourite class at Columbia College was Political Science 100 I took during my first semester. I liked it so much that I decided to keep taking more courses in Poli Sci and when I went to SFU I decided to major in Political Science.

My favourite professor is Matt. He was very essential in helping me get where I am now. He helped me choose what courses I was supposed to take and explained what career paths Political Science could lead to.

How has Columbia College helped you succeed in your academic path after you left?

Columbia College helped me understand the education system in Canada and how programs are divided here in universities and colleges, because it’s very different from my home country. In this sense, I could get more experience in volunteering here or even taking some basic courses here and not in university so I could finish all my elective courses here first then transfer there. They also gave me support in tutoring (such as English and Math), and were especially helpful during the first two semesters so that I could understand how to write an academic paper in English and some Math exercises that I had to do during the first semesters. Academic advisors helped me too. I was not sure about my career path so I went to talk with them and they provided me with a list of careers and programs associated with the job market here in Vancouver. So they helped me a lot.

What activities or clubs did you join while you were at CC? What impact did joining these clubs and activities have on you?

I was a volunteer during orientation which usually happens during the first week of classes and it was very good to teach all the knowledge that I received when I first started at the college to students, and it helped me in my future because I could provide advice to other students and I think this is important to bring to your life. You are always providing advice to your peers and I remember I did a tour in downtown Vancouver with a group of new students and I got a job as a tour guide at university because of that experience too.

How did the University Transfer program prepare you for university?

I was more prepared to go from CC to university because I could understand and learn the basic aspects of a university in Canada here at CC. I was aware that I would be in a bigger academic program in a large university, but Columbia College gave me the confidence to start my academic career in Canada.

CC could prepare me very well to go to university because they provided me with a list of courses I could take and transfer to my university, and actually all of them transferred to SFU and were part of my first-year courses. I didn’t have to worry about taking elective courses first and think about others I had to do. In this sense, they taught me time management, organization, even some English components such as grammar, citation, and especially plagiarism, which is really important and emphasized here. So this helped me a lot. Most first-year university students don’t know what plagiarism is and get in trouble but I arrived at university knowing most things that first-year students didn’t know.

Where are you now in your academic career?

After leaving CC, I studied at SFU for three more years. I completed my BA in Political Science and a Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Business at SFU in June 2019. Now, I’m starting my MA in Political Science at SFU in September and I’m very excited in this new path in my life and I’m very confident I’m going to do well.

Why do you think students should consider studying at Columbia College?

Starting at CC was crucial for me because as an international student, you are not aware of the city, how the education system works, how difficult classes can be, and how specific programs can get here in Canada compared to my home country. It’s good to have a place where you can find good professors who can teach you the academic content, good academic advisors who can help you with job opportunities or career paths that you can follow here in Canada and even the social aspect of meeting new students from different backgrounds, or even learning new skills that are important here in Canada especially if you want to stay here and establish a life here in Canada. They have tutors who were very important as well to help me. They provided more feedback on how to write essays or how to finish math homework and manage your time, so they were an important aspect of the academic component.

What advice would you give to new students about to attend their first semester at Columbia College?

My advice for first-year students for the first semester would be to listen to academic advisors or counsellors, go to class, and try to get to know your professors and learn essential skills that you can get from their classes. I think socialization is also very important so making new friends, trying to engage in activities or clubs offered here would be important to understand about the new environment and how you can succeed in your career path.

Because there are different cultures you may not know about… maybe you have to interact with others because you’re not in your home country and you’re not very aware of social activities here it can be isolating here sometimes. It can feel lonely here – you don’t have family here you don’t have friends close to you so the first month would be related to adaptation to this College and the city. I think you should keep being open. Talk to people and engage in activities so that you can feel better. I think staff are here to help you, so if you feel a little bit shy and you feel that you want to participate in activities but don’t have the willingness to jump right in, staff can help you to engage with others. I think people are very friendly at CC and willing to help, so if you’re feeling isolated from the rest you can talk to them.