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Despite the cold, Student from Singapore warms to U of T

Photo of: Ami Baba

Ami Baba. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

When Ami Baba set her sights on attending university in Canada, she had her heart set on a locale that offered all four seasons.

After choosing the University of Toronto, the third-year neuroscience and cognitive science student quickly discovered that when it came to seasons, winter was disproportionately represented here.

“When the temperature started to dip to 5 degrees, I got really cold and people told me that wasn’t the worst it gets,” said Baba, who was born in Japan, but spent most of her life in the more salubrious climates of California and Singapore.

Although she hasn’t learned to love the cold, “Snow still fascinates me; I like touching it.”

Baba’s decision to attend a Canadian university drew on competing desires for familiarity and adventure. She was comfortable with the North American education system, because her elementary school years were spent in the United States and she attended an American high school in Singapore. However, Canada was uncharted territory.

“I’d never lived in Canada before, and I thought it would be interesting to live somewhere new,” Baba said.

She is happy that she chose U of T. “I’m glad I came,” Baba said. “It’s tough, but I feel that I’ve grown as a person.”

“I liked all the diverse programs I could choose from. There’s so much opportunity and so many resources because it’s such a big school. It’s a unique experience.”

Baba has taken advantage of the opportunities U of T offers. She took part in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Research Opportunity Program during her second year and worked in a laboratory in the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

“We were looking at goal orientation in students and what kinds of factors influence performance,” Baba said. “I learned what a lab was like, and exposure to that environment is really unique. In most places you don’t get exposed to research so early.”

She also participated in New College’s career mentorship program and was matched with a post-doctoral fellow working at Toronto Western Hospital. They were first introduced during the program’s introductory reception and kept in touch regularly.

“I’m thinking of grad school, but still considering other options,” Baba said. “We discussed graduate school and talked about applying and finding a supervisor.”

Despite being far from home, Baba found it fairly easy to adjust to life at U of T. Her older sister was already studying here, so she had an instant confidante. Her New College residence also made a big difference, because she was placed on a floor full of other first-year life sciences students.

“Most people have the same classes, and it is great that you see familiar faces in classes, because first-year classes are so big,” she said. “It was nice, because some floors had students from different disciplines and different years, and there wasn’t such a tight bond. It helped a lot.

“I met a lot of people through others living on my floor, so there’s just a wide life sciences network.”

Since her second year, Baba has served as a student ambassador for the Faculty of Arts & Science, working at recruitment events to answer questions from prospective students.

“I enjoy answering people’s questions, and it’s really fun talking to prospective students,” she said. “I tell them to join clubs and really find their niche. There are so many people at U of T that you’re bound to find someone with the same interests.”