The expression “to dive in head first” describes first year Sociology and Psychology Major Sophie Zhao. I first met Zhao online when we were eager students who had just been accepted by McGill roughly a year ago, and she described herself as someone who wanted to get involved at McGill, something she has followed through with.
Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Zhao has immersed herself in nine clubs and societies at McGill, in Canada, and in one international group: End Poverty Now, International Model United Nations Association, McGill Students Spoken Word Associated Youth, McGill University Delegation Team, McGill Book Club, Writing Center Advisory Committee, McGill Pre-Law Society, and National High School Model United Nations (UN).
Zhao said she appreciated the encouragement she finds in that the student body is so unique. “I was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which one can find a niche here at McGill,” Zhao said. “The degree to which individualism is supported and celebrated is wonderful. It seems as possible to find a crowd which debates opera and Spinoza on Friday nights at Anticafe as it is to find people who love popular films or play sports.”
One of the activities that Zhao has pursued that allowed her to find her niche is Model UN, which she started in high school. “I did debate for several years and found public speaking invigorating. Model UN combined verbal expression with the chance to research interesting topics of international concern,” Zhao said. “I joined the team at the beginning of high school.”
Out of all her Model UN experiences, Zhao said her experience at Boston Area Model United Nations (BARMUN) is the most memorable.
“At BARMUN 2016, held at Boston University, the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency simulation culminated in an intricate web of plots and power struggles with delegates from all over the world,” Zhao said, “That was an intense committee session in which to partake.”
As a first year student, Zhao faced what all first years do: finding out the truth and fictions when it comes to subjective statements from upper year students. Zhao said she was pleasantly surprised to find professors and administration to be more helpful to those who seek out help than the impressions she read online.
“Before coming to McGill, I had read of the alienation which befalls many students at large institutions, and was prepared for feeling at times a nihilistic sense of being little more than a tuition-paying number,” Zhao said. “This expectation differed significantly from reality. Professors and upper administration do take the time to mentor students, provided that there is a desire in the first place to be engaged beyond what is taught in classes.”
What have you done to find your niche at McGill?
Images provided by interviewee.