A world of difference: the life-changing impact of one professor’s support

I write sitting in one of the corners of the BAnQ in Montreal. It’s summer, and a beautiful day can be seen through the windows of the building, where I’m taking some time to work and study. I’m doing a master’s degree in literary studies at UQÀM and that’s not nothing. But I pause now to think about it: of course it’s not nothing, and the path I followed to get here was long.

My memory cheats a little, but I have my emotions well ahead of the year when my journey started: I had just returned to Mexico from an exchange program in France. It was a very exciting but challenging year: language certainly was a big challenge itself. However, I was very motivated and as soon as I came back home, I went to the exchange website offered by the University of Guadalajara: “Mitacs Globalink (CANADA)” read one of the scholarships that I could apply for.

This was a very strange name and I had never conceived of such a country in my head, much less wanted to travel there. But I took a risk and applied, and after several filters, an email arrived to tell me that I was accepted. From that moment, I remember two things precisely: the words marked in red in the email and a moment full of joy.

My first week in Canada, I met Lizanne Lafontaine, the teacher responsible for my project and a professor in the Department of Education at the University of Quebec in Outaouais. Ms. Lafontaine was the professor who chose me for the Mitacs Globalink project. Canada isn’t lacking in roles that can inspire younger women — for me, Ms. Lafontaine helped me from Day One to feel passionate: I had never been close to a woman so cheerful, so strong, so disciplined, and brilliant outside of my own family. I had never worked for such a competent woman.

That first week, my professor told me that we had to do something very important: she invited me for  ice cream. For the rest of my project, I not only worked with her, but also with Judith Émery-Bruneau, a researcher who also taught me the intensity of research work with passion and discipline.

Six months later, as I have already told in this blog, I was invited to work with Lizanne and Judith again. This invitation was decisive: I worked as a research assistant and survived a Canadian winter — impressive for a Mexican. And for the first time in my life, I understood something about me, thanks to my two supervisors: that I was capable. That research in literature and language was a possible way. Lizanne and Judith (and the extraordinary Julie Ruel!) made it possible for me to see this path as a real opportunity.

But my Canadian journey does not end there. When I wanted to apply for a master’s degree at UQÀM, I needed a letter of recommendation. Timidly, I wrote to Lizanne asking for such a letter: I do not know what she wrote about me, but later I received a recruitment scholarship par excellence at UQÀM’s Department of Literary Studies .

Four years after my first experience with Mitacs, from Globalink intern to mentor with five outstanding interns of my own, my heart is full of gratitude: for the program, but also for my teachers, especially for Lizanne, for always believing in me. Having a person like her in my life, thanks to Mitacs, determined my path to one of the happiest decisions I made academically and personally.

To all the students who will apply to travel to Canada in 2019, do not hesitate. The experience is wonderful if you know how to enjoy it, and if you find a teacher like Lizanne Lafontaine on your way (they are rare!), try to learn everything you can from her. I wish you the best of luck to all new candidates and I hope we will be able to see each other again soon on this side of the world.

Nydia Pando has a degree in Hispanic Literature from the University of Guadalajara in Mexico. She has been published in books in Mexico, Spain, and Ecuador, and has received scholarships in Romania, France, and Germany. Her Globalink Research Internship participation in 2014 led her to co-author in a research article published at the University of Alberta with Prof. Émery-Bruneau (2016). Since September 2017, she has been a master’s student in literary studies (focused on poetry, feminism, and immigration) at the Université du Québec à Montréal.


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