My name is Nathalie de Rocquigny, and I am from a small town one hour west of Winnipeg, Manitoba. I grew up on a dairy and grain farm where I discovered my love for agriculture and decided that it was the career path for me.
My secondary school was very small, only approximately 200 students from kindergarten to grade 12. As a result, they did not have many resources, especially when it came to post-secondary education and studying in other countries. The majority of students that graduated continued their education in Manitoba. it was very rare for anyone to leave the province. I thought that studying in the U.S would be beneficial to me because I would have the chance to explore and encounter different experiences while living in a country that was also similar to Canada. Even though I had the idea to study in the United States since I was 16, I decided it would be easiest to just stay home. I ended up attending university in Manitoba.
Fast forwarding to my third year of university, I finally made the decision that I should have years ago and that was to study in the United States. I was tired of having large class sizes where you could not even see the teacher from your seat, walking miles just to get to your next class, and most importantly, the cold weather that Manitoban winters bring. My mother was happy for me but my father was skeptical about my decision. He was worried that my future American degree would not be good enough for Canadian employers. Since this was such a big move for me, I was not sure how to tell people and did not want to draw too much attention to myself.
I decided to wait until a few weeks prior to my departure, and received lots of love and good wishes from my friends and family.
Transferring to the University of Hawai’i at Hilo was incredibly easy. The international advisors were very kind and helpful. UH Hilo is a smaller campus, and this was beneficial to me because I was able to make connections with my professors and become more intrigued with their classes. There were many more opportunities to meet faculty, staff and students. In Winnipeg, it was almost impossible to make connections because there were very few opportunities. This helped me discover what I wanted to do in my career and to meet new people that would help me along the way.
The UH Hilo student rec center also had a program called ‘Outdoor Edventures’, where on the weekends you could sign up for field trips and tour different parts of the Big Island. This was my favorite part because I got to make friends and see the beautiful Hawai’i that I now get to call my home! It’s hard to pick a favourite trip, but if I had to I think Hapuna Beach was the most beautiful! Hapuna is a large white sand beach with light blue water and gorgeous crashing waves.
In order to complete my requirements to graduate, I had to take either a dance or music course. This was much different than my old university, where I would instead be taking only major courses such as Biochemistry. The courses that I needed to graduate from UH Hilo were interesting but also fun. Because many of my courses from Manitoba transferred to UH Hilo, I was able to graduate one year earlier than I expected. This also saved me money! To meet the graduation requirements, I chose to take Ballet. The course was physically difficult but manageable and we all got the opportunity to be in the 25th anniversary of the Hawaiian Nutcracker!
This was a lot of fun and I got to improve my dance skills.
UH Hilo is a research-oriented University, and in my first semester there I already learned the structure of a research proposal and participated in a symposium where I was able to share my research with other faculty members and students. I presented two separate research projects that I worked on in two of my classes. One of them was about marketing poinsettias in Hawai’i and which varieties were the most popular. In our horticulture class, we had three poinsettia sale days where we displayed the poinsettias at the school for buyers to view. We transplanted the poinsettias when they were young and grew them up until they changed to the colour red. I was very happy to see that all the poinsettias found a home before Christmas. The other project I worked on was for my agriculture sustainability class. At the beginning of the semester, we divided into groups and were given a garden plot to work on. I really enjoyed this hands-on
learning because I got to see for myself how some different plants grow and cooperate with the elements, as opposed to just learning about it from a textbook. At the symposium, my group presented our garden and explained the sustainable practices that were implemented. In our garden we grew many plants but the coolest ones were; lavender, mint, basil, taro, kawa, banana and pineapple. My favourite part about this project was learning about the other groups’ gardens. The College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at UH Hilo also has a research farm located about 20 minutes away. Every week for my horticulture class, we went to the farm for our labs. We got to understand the brief mechanics behind hydroponics, and study growth rates. We also looked at the yields of several varieties of rice and also the yields of transplanted peppers and eggplants in small plots. At the end of the day, my professor allowed us to roam the farm to pick whatever fruits off the trees that we wanted; rambutan, guava, avocado, starfruit, oranges…
I have zero regrets about moving to Hawai’i, other than that I should have done it sooner. I hope that all students who are considering post-secondary education are also looking into studying in another country. There are so many benefits to studying abroad! You may be a perfect fit for UH Hilo if you love nature, meeting new people, going on adventures and are interested in learning about Hawaiian culture. The International Student Association at UH Hilo was phenomenal for recognizing and appreciating their international students. They put on many activities such
as a special orientation, meeting your host parents, United Nations day (I got to walk in the parade holding the Canadian flag), international nights and they even gave me a handmade sash for my graduation with Canadian flags on it! Throughout these activities, I was able to make friends with other students from all over the world and learn new things about their cultures.
I’ll be graduating in May 2020 with my Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. As for my future plans, I am not sure yet, and that is okay. Moving to a different country has made me braver because I am more independent and feel like I can do much more than I originally thought. It takes a lot of courage to pack up and leave everyone behind; and after doing this I am able to face my fears.
Graduate school in Africa is a possibility, but I do not want to rush it because I want to make sure it is what I want. Don’t spend your 20’s thinking that you should have your life together already. Everything will work out in the end.
All photos courtesy of University of Hawaii, Hilo.