Meet Micaela Kong Gonzalez: International Student Paving Her Way in the Big City

Edited by: Carol Eugene Park

As someone who lives in Mississauga, commuting to UofT and spending most of my time in Toronto was a big change for me. As I met more people throughout my first few weeks of school, I realized that I’m not the only one who feels out of my element. The only difference is that many people are not a train ride away from their families and homes. 

Last year, over 14 000 international undergrad students were enrolled across the three campuses at the University of Toronto. While a large number of students come to Toronto from China, India, and the United States, UofT welcomed students from 168 different countries and regions.

Micaela Kong Gonzalez is a first-year Life Sciences student at UofT. She is a member of University College, and is planning on studying psychology with a minor in philosophy. Canada is the third country she’s lived in. I sat down with her to learn more about her experience moving to Toronto, and how she’s adapting to life in Canada.

Where have you lived prior to moving to Canada?

Micaela: Before moving to Canada, I lived in Miami for 15 years. For a year and a half I lived in Atlanta, and at the end of grade nine I moved to Uruguay, which is a tiny, beautiful little country in Latin America. I lived there for three years until moving here. 

Have you ever visited Canada before moving here?

No, I actually had never been to Canada. I wanted to go someplace I’d never been to. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I have the negative tendency to find faults within a city, so forcing myself to dive right into a new place wouldn't give me the opportunity to nit-pick where I would be living.

Did you have an idea in your head of what Toronto would be like?

Everyone compared it to a nicer, smaller version of New York City, so I was expecting that, but it actually reminds me a lot more of Boston. I love it. I’m scared about the cold, but so far that stereotype hasn’t proven true.

Have there been stereotypes that seem to be accurate?

I’ve met people who say “eh”, which I think is the nicest, cutest little thing ever. 

What’s the story behind your decision to study at UofT?

I was planning on going to the UK or to the United States, but my dad said: “Look, the University of Toronto is a great university, just apply, make me happy”. When I got accepted, I was like, “why am I so happy?” I started doing some research, and I realized it’s one of the best institutions for Psychology. I chose it for the prestige, for the city, and for all of the resources that are available. 

Are you happy with your choice?

I am definitely very happy. I don’t think I could’ve gone to the UK or the US.

What are the major differences between past places you’ve lived and Toronto?

Language. I’m very bilingual in the sense that I speak and think in both Spanish and English, but I took for granted what it is to speak Spanish all the time, or relying on speaking both. In Miami and Uruguay you can do both very fluently. Meeting people here who are like “Oh, I speak Arabic, that’s my second language”—that’s crazy. I do miss speaking Spanish on a regular basis. 

Have you had any issues with your identity since moving here?

Yeah. It hit me one day that everyone here knows me as either Mikayla or Mica, but my name is Micaela (Mee-ka-ella), and there’s a sense of having to edit and change and mold your identity to fit in a certain space. I do very much feel like I’m here and I’m free to be who I want to be, but it’s that interesting change that we have to make to fit in with the people we’re around, and we do it very unconsciously. We adapt.

Do you have advice for any international students who are adjusting to the lifestyle here?

Don’t be afraid to use all the resources that the university provides. The CIE, the Centre for International Experience fair--just go. Honestly, we’re here to study. There’s nothing else that we’re supposed to do. Don’t be like, “Oh, I’m too busy”. These things are in place for you to take advantage of. They’ve been really helpful, all the resources I’ve used. The Writing Centre and the Health and Wellness Centre have been really receptive to my doubts and my questions. 

Also, it’s very easy to meet people that are very similar to you because UofT is such a big school. Although I haven’t met a Uruguayan-Chinese person like me, I’ve met Latin, half-Chinese people, and people who are American and have lived in Atlanta. My advice would be to go out and meet people who challenge you, you’ll end up growing a lot more.

Do you feel like an accepted member of the UofT community?

The UofT community is very adult-like. I feel very accepted living in Toronto. I am an adult who moves, and lives, and breathes, and functions in the city.

UofT has everything to offer. If you want to have a small college experience, you can be very close to your college. If you want to be someone who lives in the city and functions as a Torontonian, there’s all the different dynamics of who you can be at the University of Toronto.

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