Angela Sunario was drawn to UBC because of its vast opportunities, so when she got here, she was quick to get involved, push her limits, and find meaningful work to complement her studies
Fourth-year Microbiology and Immunology student Angela Sunario moved to Vancouver from Jakarta, Indonesia, to study at UBC. “It was my first time at the UBC campus and living by myself in an entirely new country,” she says. Leaving home – and her three rowdy, younger siblings – was an adjustment, but she was ready to carve her own path.
Angela first heard about UBC from extended family who live in Burnaby, BC, so she already had the university in mind when she visited UBC’s booth at a university fair in her hometown. “I received a Viewbook and fell in love with UBC all on my own,” she recalls. “I clearly remember browsing the Viewbook and the you.ubc.ca website, and the two things that jumped out at me were the pictures of beautiful smiling faces and the seemingly endless opportunities that are available to UBC students.”
She’s studying bacteria, viruses, and the immune system, while concurrently taking management courses as a part of the Bachelor + Master of Management dual-degree program. We talked to Angela about making the transition to university as an international student, and how she took advantage of the opportunities that drew her to UBC in the first place.
What about UBC made you want to apply?
The people and opportunities. Each and every student has a unique UBC experience and has managed to carve out their own personal path to success. I remember thinking to myself that that is the kind of education I yearn. Right then, I promised myself to maximize the different opportunities available at UBC so I can pave my own road.
What about studying in Canada interests you?
Canada has always been known to be a country that values diversity. Canada also offers a three-year work permit for international graduates, so it is comforting to know that I will be able to work here and build a career before having to make the decision to stay or return home.
How did your idea of UBC compare to the reality of first year?
It was better than I expected it to be! I was nervous about living in a foreign environment not knowing anyone, and the thought of attending lectures with at least 200 other students was quite intimidating. But reality was pleasantly different! It was easy to meet people and make new friends – everyone was so friendly. Living in a first-year dormitory and being involved on campus also helped expand my network.
Even though classes are larger and more challenging than in high school, professors and teaching assistants are really understanding and more than willing to help students out. Attending office hours and seeking help is something I highly encourage.
“I believe that there is more to university than excelling in academics. It is important of course to maintain the grades, but it is equally – if not more – vital to push yourself, develop your potential, and seek opportunities to develop your character and soft skills.”
What kind of support did you have as a first-year international student?
First year was truly one of the most memorable years I have had at UBC. Before classes started in September, I got a two-week head start by participating in the Jump Start program. It’s an 11-day immersion program held in August that provides orientation support to new first-year international students.
I was grouped with my own faculty-specific Learning Community – mine was called Devourers of Science – and spent a lot of time with them each day, from participating in fun activities to attending lectures. Within two weeks’ time, we went from being strangers to being really good friends. We supported each other and went through a lot together! A lot of my friends today, and even my old roommate, are those I met in the program.
I think Jump Start made leaving home and living in a new country easier. From settling medical insurance, to getting used to campus, Jump start made the transition to UBC so much smoother.
I got assigned to an Enrolment Services Professional, who is able to provide guidance on financial support and personalized support. I also participated in several events that the Science Undergraduate Society hosted for first-year students.
I encourage new students to get involved as much as possible and build that strong network and support system right from the very beginning.
What was it like living in residence?
I lived in a first-year residence, which definitely added to the whole first-year experience. I lived in Place Vanier, in the KU house, which is one of the two relatively newer buildings in Vanier. I had a single room with a communal bathroom, on a co-ed floor, which proved to be a lot of fun.
Throughout the year, my floor’s resident advisor hosted monthly socials and events that brought all of us together. From having dinner to study groups to watching TV shows, our floor did a lot of things together. By the end of the year, we felt like we were second family to each other.
How has UBC supported you throughout your degree?
One of the most profound supports I received is the work opportunities provided through the Work Learn program and co-op program.
The Work Learn program supports and subsidizes meaningful part-time work experiences right here on campus, so students get the opportunity to develop professional skills. This was how I landed my first paid job! In my second year, I started working as a University Academic Assistant in the International Student Initiative department, where I provided logistical support to UBC’s recruiters.
I worked on the procurement team of a Vancouver-based biotechnology firm for eight months as a co-op student. My responsibilities were very similar, if not the same, to an assistant-buyer position. I was basically exposed to a real full-time work experience. I was responsible for procuring reagents – such as antibodies and cytokines – and materials or equipment that R&D, quality, or other departments needed. The position fit me well because I was able to use my science knowledge in a business setting.
The highlight of my co-op was when I initiated and completed a process-improvement project. By the end of my work term, the project was implemented company-wide, so that was definitely a great learning experience for me.
“I will definitely be proud to be a UBC alumna. It is very assuring to know that there exists a strong and global UBC alumni base who are willing to provide support and guidance.”
What kind of academic opportunities have you taken advantage of?
I have taken advantage of the breadth of elective requirements that allowed me to take classes outside of my program. I was able to explore other fields that I am genuinely interested in – from a course in strategic thinking to one in cost-benefit analysis.
I have been immensely enjoying the B+MM dual-degree courses, and being able to look at the world from both scientific and business perspectives. I particularly enjoy learning with an interdisciplinary group of students from various programs across UBC and listening to their thought-provoking ideas and comments.
How have you gotten involved outside the classroom?
One of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences in my four years at UBC is co-founding the B+MM Student Association.
My peer and I co-founded the association to foster a strong community and provide resources to maximize students’ experience in the B+MM program. The idea actually came up when we were working together in a group project and thought it would be really cool to get to know other students in the program. We started with 0 members and a $0 account in the beginning of the year, and we are now at 85 members and launched two brand-new programs (Peer Connections and P2P) and three professional events.
I believe that my involvement with the B+MMSA has allowed for ample personal growth. From learning to lead a team, to being comfortable at public speaking, I have pushed myself beyond my boundaries and became more aware of my strengths and limitations.
For instance, at the start of the academic year, I co-hosted the Welcome Event with the Director of Robert H. Lee’s graduate school, where we moderated a panel consisting of CEOs of several socially responsible companies. It was intimidating, as I had never moderated a panel. However, I approached it with an open mind and willingness to learn. At the end, I became comfortable in moderating a panel, and even did it solo at one of our following industry outlook events.
What kind of role did scholarships play in your education?
I am very humbled to have received the Outstanding International Student Award and Chancellor’s Scholar designation upon entrance. I have always enjoyed immersing myself in extracurricular activities, so these motivated me even further to maintain my academics and contribute to the UBC community.
After being involved with the Science Undergraduate Society and then the B+MM Student Association among several others, I was awarded the Faculty of Science International Student Scholarship for three consecutive years, and more recently, the International Community Achievement Award. These have only encouraged and assured me of my passion in being a leader that empowers others, and creating positive impacts in my community.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I do not have a concrete plan set yet, but I do want to start my career in Vancouver, whether that is in the consulting, biotech, or education industry. I am excited, yet nervous at the same time. Graduating from university is a monumental step, and signifies a new chapter in life.