Natasha Ho on studying in Canada.
I grew up in a working-class family in Hong Kong: my father is a mechanic at a government motor repair service centre, and my mother is a housewife. I had wanted to go to the top girls’ secondary school, which has one of the best music programs. However, as a private school, it was too expensive for our family. Instead, I went to a public school which was also quite strong in music (I play the violin and sing in choirs).
I wasn’t a top student, and I always envied others who could study abroad. I found out about the University of Toronto (Hong Kong) Foundation Scholarship in secondary 5—Toronto sounded really attractive and vibrant, and the University of Toronto is worldrenowned. From that moment on, I worked to prepare myself to be a strong candidate.
At the University of Toronto, I did a double major in psychology and linguistics. I am very interested in natural language processing, which is an interdisciplinary field between linguistics and computer science.
With the generosity of the U of T community in Hong Kong, the University of Toronto (Hong Kong) Foundation established a scholarship program that to date has benefited over 70 gifted students with financial need from Hong Kong, many of whom have studied at Arts & Science.
The University of Toronto provided a lot of opportunities. I was able to work directly with professors and have a peek into academia. The professors inspire you to think out of the box and to try new things. One of the most striking moments was this: I was taking a field linguistics class and applying for a fellowship, and I decided to ask my professor (Keren Rice) for a reference letter. I googled her and found out about all her amazing achievements including being named an Officer of the Order of Canada! How amazing is that! Of course, not every professor is an Officer of the Order of Canada. But every professor and lecturer is contributing to the society in their own unique field. And these are the kinds of people that I worked with and learned from on a daily basis.
That’s what is so special about the University of Toronto: it is the collective experience of the people around you, the work that they do, and how you add your own piece to the community. It is really inspiring to see everyone trying to make the society better. And multicultural Toronto itself gave me a new perspective: I learned to shed my stereotypes. I think this is a very powerful lesson on its own, and I am a different person because of it.
I convocated in November 2016, and I work fulltime as a research assistant on Canadian R&D spending in higher education. I hope to go on to graduate school, but I am taking a year off to explore my options. The world has a lot to offer, and I am not ready to settle in one place. At the end of the day, I want to become a professor and create knowledge and inspire the next generation.
Natasha Ho (BA 2016). Photo: Jackie Shapiro