After being homeschooled and taking her high school courses online, Diana Poitras left her home, within walking distance of the University of Calgary, moving across the country to attend St. Thomas University.
“On campus, I didn’t really know anyone and it was kind of hard to adjust to a city you’ve never been in, with people you’ve never seen in your life. So it was a big adjustment, so it taught me to put myself out there a little more because I was very introverted when I came in September of last year.”
Come-from-away students like Poitras are attracted to STU for the liberal arts education, but leave with a greater appreciation of their hometown, more independence and a community of friends that become family.
Sekou Hendrickson had no other choice but to leave his home in Bermuda to pursue higher education. The first-year St. Thomas University student considered going to Bard College in New York to be closer to his mother’s extended family but ultimately decided to move to Fredericton.
“When I told my grandmother that I was going to be in New Brunswick, Canada, not New Brunswick, Jersey, she worked out how long it would take to go by car from her place in downtown Bronx to Fredericton, New Brunswick. She said it was about nine hours and 21 minutes… So no matter what, my family found a way to get close somehow.”
Leaving home to pursue a degree is much less common in Canada than in the United States. Woody Brown, a third-year from Stettler, Alberta, double majoring in economics and political science, said that was the case at his school.
“I think only, maybe, two people of my grad class left Alberta.”
After experiencing two exchange programs to Belgium and Japan in high school and planning to do a semester abroad next year in Brisbane, Australia, Brown thinks travel is part of education.
“I think that going to St. Thomas has made me a better Canadian in that I’ve been able to experience this whole other part of my country that I had never even been to before.”
While out-of-province students are a minority, many students are looking for a richer university education than they can find living in their parent’s basement.
“Now when I go back home I’m, like, I don’t think I could ever go to university at home because I would still be a couch potato,” second-year Diana Poitras said.
And moving away gives students a whole other perspective.
“The thing about coming to STU,” said Hendrickson, “is that it opens you up to different cultures but it also gives you a different way of thinking and different ways of approaching subjects… So coming here and meeting all sorts of people of all sides of the spectrum and discussing it with them, it really opens you up.”
The idea of moving away from home, without the family safety net can be daunting, said Hendrickson.
“After a while it starts to dawn that you are becoming an adult and sometimes you question whether you are ready for that.”
Poitras, double majoring in history and English with a concentration in drama, got involved with Theatre St. Thomas in her first year, making her debut in last year’s production of Coronation Voyage.
“I think it was after opening night and I went outside. At that point in the year, I had made acquaintances but I didn’t really have any very close friends. And all of a sudden, all of the acquaintances that I had made at Rigby were all there and watching it, and I realized that there was a support system.”
Brown believes STU’s size adds a community feeling to the campus, including fostering relationships within classes.
“Like the Model United Nations, where there’s just a very small group of people – you know that if you were at a large school that there would be so many people trying to get in it would be so competitive. But St. Thomas, because it is such a small school, class sizes are pretty tiny and everyone gets to know one another.”
Still, moving away from home gives students a better appreciation for their home and family when they return, whether it’s home-cooked meals, free gas, or the abundance of familiar faces.
“I’ve definitely talked a lot more about the great things about Bermuda from being away within a month [of leaving]. Because it wasn’t until I got here that I realized how beautiful and how lucky and how amazing it was being home.”
Uprooting your life after graduation to pursue higher education can be scary, but the benefits outweigh the awkward introductions on move-in day.
As Poitras jokes, “You always have something to talk about! People are always asking you, ‘Why’d you come here?’ That’s the main question.”