Grad embraces collision of two worlds

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Stefanie Tom came to Western keen on drawing as much as possible from the experience – and on giving back as much as she could to the school that welcomed her for five years.

Graduating with a dual degree in English Language and Literature (Scholar’s Elective) and Ivey Honours Business Administration, Tom jumped in as a learner and a mentor, a dedicated student and an enthusiastic ambassador.

Along the way, she has learned more than just academics.

“I’ve grown a lot as a person because I’ve had to live away from my family. As an international student, I can’t just go home on weekends, so I’ve really had to rely on my networks here.  It’s taught me not to stress the small stuff and to be grateful for even the small problems that I think I have and put things into perspective.”

Originally from Trinidad & Tobago, Tom graduated high school wanting to study outside of the Caribbean. With family living in Markham, Ont., Canada became an easy decision and Western’s reputation for student experience made it her first choice.

“In my first year, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So, I took a lot of random courses. I liked English and business best, and that’s where I landed.”

The two disciplines have complemented each other.

“When I tell about my double major, a lot of people are a bit confused. They’re like, ‘Those are so different – what do you plan on doing with those two things?’” she explained. “English has taught me critical-thinking skills. You analyze things, look at words, look at meanings, look at tone. Business has taught me a lot of problem-solving. I feel like the two of those combined are really useful.”

A foot in both academic spheres has forced her to think more deeply about how to integrate the two. A business course in corporation and society, for example, examined the financial cases for and against building pipelines across Indigenous lands. Meanwhile, a humanities course on critical race theories provided insights into the injustice, inequity and power in land disputes that underpin Canadian pipeline debates.

Her five years at Western weren’t all business (and English), though.

In addition to diving into residence life in successive years as resident, assistant, soph and don, Tom was guest speaker at faculty-based Open Houses for prospective students.

She also cultivated and shared her passion for singing and composing music. She performed at coffee houses, entered the Western Voice talent competition (and was a finalist) and dropped songs every Saturday to her Instagram Live followers. Rather than a diversion from her studies, singing has enriched them.

Tom was also a regular interviewer for Humans of Western on Instagram, a place where the Western students can learn of small, everyday inspirational acts on campus.

Being an International student has had its challenges, including the paperwork and patience needed for student visa renewals and post-graduate work permits as she continues to work on campus as a business lecturer this summer.

“I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who value the fact that I’m an international person. That can be a little tricky. On one hand, I don’t want to be a tokenized outsider, but on the other hand, where I come from is a big part of who I am.”

She is looking forward to returning home, although she’s not sure when, to celebrate her graduation with her parents, younger brother and extended family.

Tom offered this advice to her freshman self: “Do not be afraid to meet new people and trust people and develop connections with people. It’s crazy the amount of growth that can happen in one or two years. It goes by so fast and so I guess I just wish l had that mindset all throughout my time at Western.”