Find out how one Toronto student took the leap, driving cross-country to make UBC home and explore life outside the city where he grew up – discovering himself, and his passions, along the way.
It wasn’t until grade 12 that Ben Dunn knew what he wanted after high school: “Big change!” And he found it, at UBC’s Okanagan campus. He was after adventure and novelty, and wanted to be in a beautiful environment surrounded by nature. With those criteria top of mind, UBC became the obvious choice. For Ben, that meant studying at a university far from home, and working hard in grade 12 to turn his dream into a reality.
Growing up in Ontario, do you remember the first time you heard about UBC?
It must have been in grade 10, when I drove from Toronto to Vancouver Island with my dad and brother. My dad mentioned UBC and suggested I consider applying after high school. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, and even declined my dad’s offer to stop at UBC in Vancouver.
Did you always know you wanted to go to university?
It wasn’t until the start of grade 12 that I began to seriously think about university, and I realized I had to shape up quick. I was behind in my courses and had to swallow my pride and take a grade 11 chemistry class in my final year, which ended up being a great experience
“I wanted a big change, and the opportunity to live and study in a beautiful province like British Columbia really spoke to me. I would be surrounded by nature, meeting new people, trying new things. I really wanted that.”
How did you decide what you wanted to study?
In high school, I thought that to have a successful career I had to study Sciences because that’s where all the money was – so not true! So, I convinced myself I needed to be in Sciences and, because I love animals, the idea of being a veterinarian really stood out to me. As a result, I applied to several universities for biology, including both of UBC’s campuses.
What made you decide to come to UBC in the end?
Oh my, so many reasons! As I mentioned, I was determined to get away from home. I knew if I went to university in Ontario I would have stayed in the same old friend groups and communities. I felt I needed a totally fresh start, and I certainly got it.
I was also really drawn to living in BC. It’s so beautiful – and I felt I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spend four years out here.
Another deciding factor was Destination UBC. The second I stepped off the shuttle bus onto the University Centre Commons Field and saw the view, I knew it was where I wanted to be. The rest of the weekend solidified that decision for me. I met so many amazing students, loved the residence buildings and the campus facilities, and the city and surrounding area were gorgeous. There was really no way I could say no!
“For me, it was a question of whether I’d want to wake up to mountains or skyscrapers.”
What was it like moving across the country?
It was terrifying and exhilarating. I decided to turn the move into a cross-country road trip and drove to UBC with my friend Harrison, who I met during the Destination UBC weekend. The road trip was a blast – I highly recommend it to anyone coming from Ontario to UBC. Not only is it fun, but it’s cheaper than flying and you can bring way more stuff with you than you can on a plane! We went swimming in every lake we passed, made inukshuks in every province, and discovered tons of beautiful locations to hike and camp out at every night.
Was it hard to move in to residence and get used to life on campus?
Once I got to UBC, I was blessed with an amazing roommate who, with his family, helped me settle in because neither of my parents were with me. Rob, my roommate, is still my best friend and roommate to this day. We hit it off immediately and have done almost everything together since the moment we met. One of my fondest memories from those first days was bringing cookies to everyone on our floor to make new friends and see who we’d be sharing the floor with. Throughout the year, we delivered cookies to our floormates on a monthly basis, and in later months, brought cookies to the whole building.
You originally applied to UBC for a BSc in Biology and are now a BA student with a double major in Psychology and Anthropology. What changed your mind?
There were a number of reasons I made the switch. When I started university I wanted to become a veterinarian, so I really needed a BSc. I went to all of my Science classes, and they were alright, but when I heard about all the other cool classes I could take I realized my current course load was limiting, and so was my determination to become a veterinarian!
I’m the kind of person who would rather take the time to explore my options than go full-steam-ahead with something I’m not confident about. So, after switching some of my Science classes for Arts classes, I soon fell in love with Psychology and later Anthropology, too. After a year and a half of taking Arts classes I made the formal degree change online (which was super easy) and became a Psych major instead of a Biology major. Having the opportunity to take a variety of courses in my first year was incredibly valuable for me, and I’m really happy I made the change early on.
What’s been the most surprising thing about living in Kelowna?
Everyone says thank you when they get off the bus here! People in Kelowna are so lovely and friendly wherever you go.
What have been the best parts about UBC’s Okanagan campus?
Without a doubt, the community I’ve built has been the best part of my UBC experience. I have a great circle of friends, and we hang out every day. I’m part of a lively research lab, where we regularly debate and come up with tons of interesting ideas. I also stay involved on campus by participating in events and working on new initiatives with other students.
“It may be clichéd, but if you really want to find yourself and figure out what you want in life, some of the best things you can do is to lean in to new experiences, try things you are afraid of, and step outside your comfort zone.”
What types of things have you discovered through campus life?
There’s always something cool happening on campus. One of my favourite things to do is wander around the campus and peek into classrooms or event spaces to try new things with interesting people. It’s thanks to the people I’ve met – my friends and all the good people around me – that I am who I am, and where I am today.
What do you wish high school students back home knew about UBC?
I wish people back home knew that it’s not so bad to be far away from home! Sure, you may not get to take the train home every weekend to visit family, but with technology, home is never more than a screen away. I stay in touch with family and friends all over the world with phone calls, FaceTime, and other apps like Instagram and Snapchat. The world is a much smaller place than it used to be, and if anything, now when I do go home it’s even more special because of the time I’ve spent away.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about moving away from home for university?
Just DO IT! There are some things you can only learn by leaving home and striking out on your own. It’s when we are pushing ourselves that we experience true personal growth and feel the most alive. Leaving home was scary for me, but that’s how I grew into the person I am today, and it’s the reason I continue to grow and challenge myself. If I had stayed home, my life would have been stagnant, and stagnancy isn’t desirable for anyone.