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Canadian Forces and University: An interview with Shirley Zhang

Nisan Kavak for Her Campus McGill (HC McGill): Hello Shirley! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? What do you study?

Shirley Zhang (SZ): My name is Shirley Zhang. I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC. I have a passion for travel, and take every opportunity to expose myself to new cultures and experiences. I’m in the Faculty of Arts & Science, so I’m majoring in International Development Studies (States and Governance) with minors in Environment and Geography. I recently had the chance to blend academia and travel during a field excursion to the McGill Subarctic Research Station in Schefferville, Quebec. If you have an interest in geomorphology and don’t mind the bug bites, I’d absolutely recommend it! I heard there’s going to be summer fieldwork opportunities in the Arctic this year which sounds fantastic.

HC McGill: I saw that you were graduating this year. How do you feel and any advice for people just starting university?

SZ: My advice is to network as much as you can — you never know who you’ll meet! I took the opportunity to enroll in a program that puts me in contact with students and staffs from so many departments, and I’m thankful that I’ve been exposed to so many opportunities. Don’t neglect opportunities off campus, either — it’s all too easy to get caught up in the McGill bubble! Also, don’t forget to sleep :)

HC McGill: A colleague also mentioned that you were in the Canadian Army? How did you first decide to join?

SZ: I’ve always enjoyed extracurricular opportunities, reaching back to when I was in high school. I used to volunteer at the local hospital in Vancouver, participated in Western Canada Youth Parliament, and was a member of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets. I feel that these experiences naturally guided me towards an enrollment in the Canadian Forces as they’d already taught me some valuable pre-requisite skills such as confidence, leadership, and discipline. I submitted my Reservist application at the beginning of U0 and swore in the following fall. It was important for me not only to serve the country, but also to demonstrate my strength as a woman in performing all of the expected tasks. 

HC McGill: Another question related to the army, is it hard managing school and the army together? 

SZ: It definitely isn’t easy! Especially around midterms or finals, it’s tough to balance my work responsibilities with academic priorities. I often have to work long hours at the regimen when school deadlines are closing in, meaning that there’s barely time for myself. You have to be ultra-efficient and always have an eye on the clock. It’s not for everyone, but I feel that it’s been rewarding and has taught me an incredible amount about discipline and time management. These are absolutely transferable skills for later in life. 

HC McGill: Do you have any advice for people who want to join the army?

SZ: Be prepared to sacrifice and devote yourself to hard work. It requires a level of confidence and determination that may be difficult to maintain at first, but you must always keep in mind that your contribution to our nation is immeasurable. 

All images provided by the interviewee. 

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