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March 6, 2003, Gazette

Why am I here? I’ll tell you

Katie Norman
Memorial has had its share of controversy this year. The tuition increase for international students and the possible censure vote for MUNSU President Gilbert Salam are just some examples of the headline stories that have been covered by student campus media and outside outlets such as the CBC. The whirlwind of controversy has left some students quite outspoken about their opinions of Memorial, its programs, faculty and staff, and even of the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Listening to others’ opinions on the St. John’s campus and this province has enticed me to think of my own reasons for choosing Memorial.

First off I am not going to claim objectivity. I have always lived in St. John’s and to me this truly is home. Yet obviously this is a very weak argument for anyone who was born outside the Avalon Peninsula.

I chose to go here firstly out of convenience, not because I had no other options. This choice was heavily affected by the fact that I am a resident of Newfoundland and it was logical to choose the local university. For some people Newfoundland does not provide a convenient location. It’s not a 10-minute drive away from everyone’s front door, as it is for me. For students hailing from the West Coast there’s an eight-hour drive between MUN’s St. John’s Campus and home. People also travel from other parts of North America, South America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe to arrive on the Prince Phillip Drive Campus. For such students there are huge travel costs to be considered before becoming a student here. Obviously travel costs are a major factor to consider when deciding what campus to attend.

Last year, as Grade 12 began, my weekends started filling up with writing scholarship applications, filling out university applications and assessing what would be the best academic choice for me. I had an idea of what I wanted – the campus had to be fairly big with a good arts program and lots of extracurricular activities. I wanted somewhere there was a wide range of programs so that I could take a variety of electives. The university’s acceptance of advanced placement credit also played a factor in my decision. I wanted a place that would challenge me and a place that was inviting. Somewhere that was big enough that I could feel anonymous if I wanted, yet open enough for me to meet new people and form relationships with my professors. Memorial, with roughly 15,000 students, seemed like the perfect size for me.

Like many students, the Internet became my way to investigate the best universities Canada had to offer. Needless to say the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s database at www.aucc.ca became one of my most valuable tools. This led me all over the Web, through liberal arts colleges, college town universities and metropolitan universities in some of Canada’s major cities.

In comparison with some major universities in Canada, MUN has one of the most user-friendly Web pages. It was easy to find out such information as tuition costs, program requirements and which student services were available. This fact made Memorial more accessible, as I could get all the information I needed from my basement. Good Web pages that are easy to use and attractive connect the students to the schools and programs. This is vital.

Once armed with the information about my top choices of universities, I looked at the amount of scholarship funding available to students. While MUN does give out many scholarships, the amount of money available is a lesser amount than some other campuses. Although upon closer look many other campuses offer the majority of their scholarships to students of their province, which excluded me. This put me back to square one in a sense that funding can be anticipated but there is no guarantee on it being received.

Since it seemed I had the best opportunity of receiving a scholarship from Memorial I focused my energy on finding out about the programs at MUN. I spoke to teachers who had pursued similar degrees at Memorial to get a feel for what certain programs entailed. It is these conversations that I find myself reflecting on when someone belittles MUN citing the handicaps of receiving a post-secondary education here. Specifically I remember a conversation in which I was told: “You’ll get better marks in Harvard’s English program than you will at MUN. Memorial’s English department is very challenging. They teach in a very British way and expect a lot from their students. This will drive you and you will become a better writer.” This conversation gave me perspective on what I was to encounter at Memorial. This fact has held very true, not just in English but in all the subjects I have pursued. When professors expect a lot there is only one thing to do – give them a lot back.

Early on, my philosophy became that personal dedication to scholastic achievement coupled with supportive networks would allow a student to achieve the highest possible education. I have spent time developing a network of students who are pursuing similar areas of study, talking to professors, meeting with department heads, and basically taking my education into my own hands.

It is not that MUN forces me to do this, rather it allows me freedom and control over my decisions in shaping my future.