As an aspiring journalist growing up in Quito, Ecuador, Natalia Tola was intrigued by the opportunities that studying abroad could bring.
“When it comes to South America, there are not that many opportunities for journalism,” she says. “We have a lot of populism in the media and also a lot of government control. However, I did know that I wanted to be able to … really tell the stories of people. So I wanted to study in a language that would really open up my opportunities in the world, and I felt like Canada was a country that was very friendly for students.”
Her next step?
“I actually Googled ‘Best schools for journalism in Canada’,” she laughs. “And King’s was in the top three.”
Natalia liked what she read about the journalism program, and she was drawn to other aspects of King’s, too.
“I felt engaged by King’s main tenets of being empathetic—sort of compassionate—towards the world. And I found that so exciting, so I thought this really would be a university where not only I could know more about the world, but where I could also … in a way discover myself.”
Now in her second year, Natalia is King’s International Student Ambassador. The role involves attending international recruitment fairs and virtual open house events to share the insights she has gained during her studies in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“What I really want to show is that although it may be a university that’s really far away for many, it really will always make you feel like you’re at home.”
Reflecting back to 2019 when she first arrived in Nova Scotia, Natalia says the coastal city immediately made a strong impression.
“I remember arriving to my hotel and immediately wanting to get out and explore Halifax…. I was aware I was going into a city, but I wasn’t aware I was going into one with so much personality. Even my father, who has visited many cities, said that it’s very original because you get the ocean but at the same time you get really the feeling of being in a Canadian town.”
“What I really like about Halifax is that it’s a young city—everyone around you is young, everyone around you … has a liberal sort of mindset—which is really exciting when you come from conservative countries. The size is perfect: there’s a lot to explore—you can always find new cafes, new stores—but at the same time it’s not overwhelming…”
“I thought this really would be a university where not only I could know more about the world, but where I could also … in a way discover myself.”
In addition to studying in the Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) program, Natalia is minoring in Contemporary Studies. From the ideas and perspectives that Natalia is engaging with through these programs, she is developing a stronger sense of what matters to her in a career.
“I want to use the fact that I’m bilingual to be able to comment on things that are happening around the world that are underrepresented. For example, the drug crisis in Colombia, the political crisis in Venezuela, even in Ecuador how we struggle sometimes with fishermen [and conservation]. I think that these are extremely important things that aren’t really spoken about enough, so I really want to use the fact that I’m bilingual for something. But I realize that I really enjoy interacting with people, so I think my field of career options is just opening up more and more.”
“Learning about King’s Contemporary Studies program made me realize that my scope of the world was so narrow, even if I thought it wasn’t. So that’s made me realize: maybe I’m interested in politics, maybe I’m interested in gender studies, maybe I like history. And to me that’s my favourite thing about King’s—you really come into university expecting to learn certain things, but professors and students will want you to think outside that and really just find a different way of understanding things, which really opens up your field of understanding.”
For many students, international and domestic, starting college or university means living on their own for the first time. As Natalia points out, at King’s living on your own doesn’t mean going it alone.
“I’ve often heard that King’s is compared to Hogwarts and I think that is absolutely true especially when you live in residence. You really feel like you’re part of something bigger, and everyone around you is going through the same things. As a first-year student everyone is struggling with laundry, everyone is struggling with public transit, so it definitely brings you closer to others.”
While living away from home offers a combination of excitement and challenges under normal circumstances, for Natalia and many other students the challenges became serious as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020. When her home country of Ecuador closed its borders, Natalia was able to remain in residence at King’s.
“When the University shut down because of the pandemic, King’s actually hosted me until the borders of my country opened up again,” she says.
As the pandemic continues, Natalia notes that things are different on campus this year, but she says that the King’s community remains as welcoming as ever.
“I genuinely believe that the staff is making its best effort to be as kind with students as possible,” says Natalia.
“At first I really missed the student environment. I missed having good conversations in person with my professors…. But then as time went by, I started seeing that there are actually benefits in online learning, especially being able to repeat lectures and take everything at your own pace…. And likewise being able to pick up work and drop it off whenever you really feel comfortable. I think that is a huge advantage because it means that if you’re having a day where you really want to look after your mental health or physical health, you’re allowed to do that, and professors are aware of how strange the situation we’re living in really is, which means that they’re accommodating with due dates and they’re accommodating with papers. You really get the sense that we’re all in this together.”