Starting out at a new school is never easy. Add in that this is your first time attending university, it’s in a different country and you’re in the middle of a pandemic, and ‘never easy’ becomes something of an understatement.
That is precisely the situation Brooke Andre and Gabrielle Sparks find themselves in. Both are residents of the State of Maine who chose to cross the border to attend St. Thomas University (STU) in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They’re also both experiencing the challenges of their decision.
Sparks, 19, arrived a little early for her first semester, but that didn’t mean she had time to tour her new surroundings and get to know the community.
“I had to get out of the cab and go right to quarantine,” Sparks says of her arrival in mid-August 2020. “I didn’t even see the campus again for almost a month.”
The virus also affected her chance to meet more students. The rules put in place by the New Brunswick government meant she couldn’t meet people from outside her bubble, which mostly means her dorm.
“I made friends in my dorm, but it definitely doesn’t feel like anything I was promised about first year by the promotional material,” Sparks says.
Andre, 18, had her own challenges when she arrived in Fredericton on Sept. 1, 2020. She chose not to live on campus and secured an apartment in town, but she still had to quarantine. She also had to make the move to her new life all on her own due to COVID-19 restrictions at the border.
“Having to say goodbye to my mom before crossing the border was the hardest thing of moving,” Andre says. “Having to adapt to a new country and lifestyle without my parents forced me to be more independent.”
It didn’t help matters when travel restrictions made her arrival difficult, but she found ways to keep herself organized and positive using checklists.
“I received some emails informing me about the steps I needed to take to obtain a study permit and get across the Maine/New Brunswick border,” Andre says.
It isn’t all bad, though. Both students have discovered a love of their new community and are enjoying their courses at STU.
Sparks wants to be a film major and says all the courses she took were her favorites despite being mainly online classes. She especially loves the English literature classes.
“The Aquinas program was a huge draw for me because I’ve always loved literature,” Sparks says.
On the other hand, Andre hasn’t decided what she wants to major in. A minor in music sounds tempting for her.
“I really enjoyed Music Theory and Performance,” Andre says. “We had team meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays and interacting with other students really helped me a lot.”
Both Andre and Sparks profess a new-found love of Fredericton. Sparks likes the small town vibe and the scenery.
“It’s just so beautiful outside. Fall was gorgeous,” Sparks says.
Andre loves the STU campus with its abundant greenery. She finds Fredericton’s smaller size disguises the sheer volume of cultural experiences it offers.
“There are a lot of thrift stores and fun things to do even during the pandemic,” Andre says.
Andre also appreciates Fredericton’s natural beauty, saying the views are unique and the sunrises are incredibly magical.
“I usually wake up super early to watch them just because they are amazing,” Andre says.
Andre and Sparks admit their new lives came with challenges, but they both believe the experience is worth it. Andre says studying abroad has helped her become more independent and responsible while getting to know a different place and new people.
Sparks agrees. She says being away from home is hard and she really misses her family and pets but studying abroad is an experience more young people should take into consideration.
“It does help to get some interactions with many students from different places,” Sparks says.
Photos by Aaron Sousa and Pierina Rivas Robbiano