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The Queen's international experience

The Queen's international experience

Mariem Tahra Abdou Ahmed Labeid

Undergraduate student

[photo of Mariem Labeid]When she graduates with her degree in geological engineering, Mariem Tahra Abdou Ahmed Labeid won’t have to go looking for a job: she already has one.

Ms. Labeid, who is from Mauritania in northern Africa, is studying at Queen's on a full scholarship from the biggest mining company in her country. Ms. Labeid has already signed on to work for the company once she finishes her studies in 2017.

"I want to do as much as I can while I am here," she says of being away from Mauritania for the first time.

Because English is her third language (she also speaks Arabic and French), Ms. Labeid spent a year studying at the Queen's School of English before embarking on her degree in January 2013.

"I still have to work hard on every subject," she says. "I review everything when I get back to my apartment after class. It takes me time to do my readings because I have to look up words, but I think I’m improving."

Ms. Labeid remembers arriving in Kingston for the first time to a winter far more frigid than anything she had ever imagined. Her older brother, who was studying at Queen's at the time, met her at the airport with a winter coat. She also remembers trying to decipher the ins and outs of Canadian culture in her first year on campus.

"I didn't understand a lot of what was going on, things like how I was supposed to act or react – things like that," she says. Now readying herself for her fourth winter, Ms. Labeid is very comfortable on campus, and thinks Queen's is a great place to be an international student.

"I had never dreamed of meeting so many people from different backgrounds and cultures. I’m learning so many new things."

Sachil Singh

South Africa
Graduate student

[photo of Sachil Singh]After completing his master's degree in an economic history and development studies program at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in his native South Africa, Sachil Singh wasn't sure what to do next.

Looking for ideas, he sat down with one of his former professors who pointed him to David Lyon and the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's. Feeling encouraged, Mr. Singh sent off an email inquiring about the possibility of studying with him.

"And within a few hours, there was a response from David Lyon," he recalls. "I was quite taken aback that he had responded to me!"

More than five years later, Mr. Singh is in the latter stages of his doctorate degree under the supervision of Dr. Lyon. Mr. Singh has spent that time looking at the negative social consequences of credit scoring in South Africa.

When he's not working on his academics, Mr. Singh trains with the Queen's Karate Club (he has a third-degree black belt in two karate styles) and works at the Queen's University International Centre where he enjoys supporting incoming students from around the world.

"I've always been fascinated by the differences and similarities among people from different cultural backgrounds," he says.

He recalls a key Queen's moment as finding himself in an impromptu conversation with a group of classmates and realizing that represented among them were a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and an atheist.

"Halfway through the conversation I stopped to self-reflectively acknowledge it," he says. "Too often religion is the cause of conflict, but here we were, a group of friends, trying to find a better way forward. For me, it was an important and unique experience."

Sieun An

South Korea
Post-doctoral fellow

[photo of Sieun An]Sieun An studies human behaviour in a social context. She is also interested in how people conceptualize emotion.

"It is the key to understanding a lot of human behaviour," she explains.

Originally from South Korea, Dr. An moved to the U.S. to pursue her post-secondary education. After receiving a BA from SUNY Albany, she carried on to New Mexico State University where she earned her MA and PhD in experimental psychology. When she heard that Queen's professor Dr. Li-Jun Ji was looking for a researcher to work in her Culture and Cognition lab, however, Dr. An saw an opportunity she knew she couldn’t pass up.

"Dr. Ji is known worldwide for her work in cross-cultural psychology and social cognition," she says. "I knew it was a good fit for me."

When she landed the position, Dr. An made the drive from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Kingston with her cat, Leo.

"I was astonished by how beautiful the campus was," she says, recalling her first impressions upon arrival. Dr. An then used her first pay cheque to buy herself a bike, which she regularly uses to tool around Kingston."I like biking out to a café to read."

Dr. An has particularly enjoyed the supportive research community she has found at Queen's– as well as its diversity. "I am impressed by how multicultural Queen's is," she says.

After she completes her one-year term at Queen's, Dr. An will head to China for a fellowship in neuroscience at Peking University and – she hopes – a future in academia.

"Eventually, I want to be a professor at an institution like Queen's," she says. "I like teaching, but I don’t want to give up research. Queen's has a good balance of both."

Matthias Spitzmuller

Assistant professor

[photo of Matthias Spitzmuller]
When he arrived on campus as a nervous exchange student more than a decade ago, Matthias Spitzmuller had no idea how much it would change the course of his life.

Stepping off the bus in August 2002 for a term in Canada, the German native admits he felt a little lost. That's when a passing student, who noticed his distress, stopped to help him get his bearings.

"It gave me a positive feeling that lasted for weeks," he recalls. In fact, Dr. Spitzmuller still looks back on that time as one of the best periods of his life.

"Part of it was the Queen's University International Centre – they do such a wonderful job of making people feel like they’re part of the community," he says.

But just as important were the many friends from around the world that Dr. Spitzmuller made while on campus. A year after returning to Germany, he made a trip to Mexico to visit one of them, Jessica Rangel Rojas: the pair later married.

After earning a PhD in organizational behaviour at Michigan State University, doing some consulting work in Germany, and working as an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, Dr. Spitzmuller heard about a job at Queen's School of Business. When he learned he had landed it, he and his wife (who now have a son) celebrated with a bottle of champagne.

Back in Kingston since July, Dr. Spitzmuller says Queen's still holds the same charms for him that it did 12 years ago.

"What I really hope is that my family and I are here for the long run," says Dr. Spitzmuller, who admits he still finds it funny to work side-by-side with the people who were once his professors. "This is a place where I know we can put down roots."

[Queen's Alumni Review 2014 issue 4 cover]