Meet Putri at the University of Waterloo in Canada!

Name: Putri Cullinane
Nationality: Canadian / Indonesian
University: University of Waterloo, Canada
Degree Title: BA (hons) Environment, Resources and Sustainability
with a minor in Economics
Current Year of Study: 2nd year

10 Questions:

How did you choose your university destination and course of study?

Growing up with both parents having a background in environment and agriculture, I was exposed to environmental principles from when I was very young. Over the years, my passion for the environment grew as I joined multiple after-school activities and clubs such as Roots and Shoots and the high school Community Garden. Moreover, I was also really drawn to my Economics course in high school and wanted to combine economic theory with environmental and geographical principles. This realisation has helped narrow my field of study.

I also always knew that I would go to Canada for my university, and with having family in the area, it was definitely easier for me to decide which university to apply to. I decided to accept the offer to the University of Waterloo (UW) rather than the other university I applied to because of their co-op program. Co-op programs let students explore careers and gain paid work experience as a part of their university degree. Not only will I be studying a field I am passionate about, I will also gain multiple different work experiences that will help me decide which career path I want to take after I graduate.

UW has one of the top environmental faculties in Canada and offers numerous environmental degrees. I decided to pursue Environment, Resources and Sustainability (ERS) because it offered more of the perspective of environment that I was looking for. A combination of environment and economics, this program in UW also offers some flexibility which allows me to take various electives and also pursue a minor in Economics.

What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?

One highlight from my academic programme so far has definitely been my first co-op placement. I was very fortunate to be able to work with a non-profit organization in a provincial park in northern Ontario. Not only that, I was surrounded by nature and serene beauty, I was exposed to very valuable knowledge and insights about the structural operation of a charity, enforcement of parks, product research, business to business relations and much more. All the transferable skills I have gained will be very useful for my future co-op placements and career.

Another big highlight has been meeting like-minded people from my program and outside my program. Before getting into my ERS programme in UW, I never really felt like the people I was surrounded with fully understood my perspective, but I then worked on a group project about Sustainability in Campus during my first year and met 3 wonderful friends who I now call my best friends. We also applied for a Study Abroad program and got accepted to the University of Dundee in Scotland!

What do you enjoy most about living in Waterloo?

I really enjoy living in Waterloo because living independently has allowed me to grow. It has given me the chance to find out what I need and like and also what I don’t like. For example, the importance of self-time after a long day in University.

Waterloo is also is a student friendly area. With two universities in the area, there are a lot of student communities and activities. Waterloo has a lot different cuisine from all over the world to explore. Everyone in Waterloo is also very nice and accommodating. Even though Waterloo is a smaller municipality, it has many services and activities easily accessible by either walking or through the public transportation which is very convenient.

How supportive is your university to international students and, in particular, during the pandemic?

UW has been supportive to international students in general by having different clubs and also individual country clubs, for example the Indonesian Club. These clubs hold events during the term which helps students meet other students and feel welcome. There is also a large community of international students in Waterloo so everyone is very accepting.

During the pandemic, when international students were not allowed to enter the country, these clubs held virtual events and provided support for students who had concerns and inquiries. They also provided updates on any changes in regulations to students to keep them updated. There were numerous ways in which international students were able to reach out which was very helpful.

What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?

One main challenge that I faced during my first two years of university was having to find ways to adapt to online classes and then to in-person classes again. I find that the two types of study require different types of studying habits. It took a couple of months to figure out my studying rhythm.

Another challenge is handling money. As a university student, most of us are very limited in our budget and what we can spend. We have to be really cautious with our spending. This was especially difficult during the inflation that happened in Canada as my income remained the same but prices were rising. I am always trying to figure out ways I can save money, but some tips that I found is to:

  1. Don’t shop when you are hungry
  2. Make a list and stick to the list
  3. Take advantage of loyalty card/programs
  4. Check for deals and discounts on weekly flyers
  5. Check out if there are no-frills (not branded) stores and even buying bulk store – you will save more money there
  6. If you are thinking of making a bigger purchase for your wants, let it sit for a couple of days to see if you still want/need it – delay your process

Another personal challenge I had is to create boundaries. I always want to help the people around me and would always be readily available. However, this cut a lot of my energy and time and I found that I burnt out more often. I had to learn to turn some people down to focus on myself and prioritise me. This was hard at first but now I am comfortable that I have a good work-life balance.

What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?

Since I am currently studying in the spring/summer semester, there are not a lot of activities offered in comparison to the fall semester. However, I have been getting involved with “wisahkotewinowak” which is an urban Indigenous garden collective building a land-based relationship across the Grand River Territory in the Waterloo area. They are an organisation who aim to nurture Land-based relationships to strengthen local food sovereignty and urban Indigenous food environments. I have been helping maintain the produce garden located at the University of Waterloo Environmental Reserves.

Furthermore, I am keeping my eyes out for potential volunteer opportunities in campus settings and events to attend. This is a really good way to be involved with something you are passionate about, making new friends while also contributing meaningfully to the community.

More information on wisakotewinowak can be found here:

How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?

Student housing off-campus and on-campus is very well advertised in Waterloo and there is designated on-campus housing for first years. There are Facebook pages and also websites from the university that list available rooms for rent. I found that it was particularly easy to find accommodation. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of the rental units are on a 4-month basis and some postings could be very last minute.

I am currently living off-campus in student housing with 3 other roommates. The location is a 20-30 minute walk and a 15 minute bus ride away from campus which is a very short distance. Since it is the summer, I have been walking to school everyday. I was also close friends with 2 of my roommates before we moved in and had no trouble being friends with my other roommate. We all really get along and hangout and study together all the time. I feel like I got really lucky.

The house that I am currently staying in is also very good for student housing. We live in a 2 story house with a basement, 4 rooms and 2.5 baths. The house also has a pool and a garden! We also pay relatively cheap rent in comparison to other rental units in apartments.

Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?

Yes. As I mentioned before, the Co-op program that is offered at UW allows up to 5 different job experiences prior to graduating. There are chances to get jobs in different fields, for example if you are in Environment, you could do jobs in the policy field, conservation work, consultancy field and many more. Therefore, when you graduate, you will have work experiences already on your resume and a sense of direction of what you would like to do after completing your degree.

UW has their own job board where they will post jobs open for Co-op, non-co-op and even part time jobs. They also have the Career Action Centre that will help students prepare for job searching, resume building, interview practice and much more. I believe UW has the resources to help students as much as they can.

What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?

During the weekends, I have had a chance to travel around the Waterloo region and also to Toronto. I have been able to explore all the vintage and thrift stores in the area, the farmers market, Christmas lights shows, restaurants, plant nursery, CN tower, museums, parks, beaches and more. There is always something to explore wherever you are! If you do decide to come to Waterloo, please do not hesitate to reach out to me and I can recommend some places!

I was also very fortunate to be able to have a job during my summer break in 2021 and went to Alberta, Canada. I worked in a hotel that is located in Kananaskis which is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. I loved my experience up there and would highly recommend taking any opportunity that arises because you don’t know where it might take you.

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Waterloo and Canada to study?

  1. Do not be scared to reach out! There is a big international student community in Canada and we are all in the same boat. University is the time for you to make life-long friends and having a couple of friends in a foreign country is going to help you settle in.
  2. Have an idea on budgeting. As students, we are very limited with the financial resources we have. Make sure you are getting the most out of your money. Take advantage of member loyalty cards, weekly offers and have a savings account. There might also be some financial shock depending where you are moving from as prices in Canada might be different to where you grew up.
  3. Learn to cook your favourite home meals! There are going to be times when you miss home and sometimes the closest thing we have to home is food. Learning how to make your favourite meal and making it will not only help you with home-sickness but also save you some money.

Instagram: putri_edna
LinkedIn: Putri Cullinane

Find out more on the links below

Visit the University of Waterloo website

Lots of hiking trips!
Acquiring new driving skills with classmates
Taking class in the great outdoors!
Please get in touch if you would like one-to-one support with your international university applications
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