Language no barrier for international English grad

For Julia Garcia (MA ’20), the road to her master’s degree has been a long one, spanning two continents.

The international student from Porto Alegre, Brazil, graduated with a Master of Arts in English during Brock’s Fall Convocation on Friday, Oct. 16 — and she did so with the highest grades in her program.

“It was a surprise,” Garcia said. “I wouldn’t have thought I had the highest average, especially as an immigrant. English is not my first language.”

Garcia took seven years to finish her undergraduate degree in Brazil as she worked her way through university by teaching English and Portuguese.

“After I finished my degree I wanted to study more,” she said. “At that point, I had no idea I could even come to Canada. Because I had always been teaching English, I enrolled in a specialized program for teaching language and literature.”

It was at this time that Garcia discovered her love for the written word.

Her professors were supportive as she began looking for opportunities to do her master’s in Brazil, but funding for research was scarce. That’s when she began to look abroad and discovered Brock.

“At Brock, the program was so very diversified and interesting,” Garcia said. “I felt it was a very interdisciplinary kind of program in terms of faculty. We have faculty doing different kinds of research. It is also a smaller program, so you get to know professors and have access to them.”

Garcia came to Canada with her wife, Lara Costa, who is now an instructor in Brock’s Women’s and Gender Studies program. While she didn’t face language barriers, there were still cultural differences to adjust to.

“Being a teaching assistant (TA) was very different for me at first,” said Garcia, who has 10 years of experience teaching in Brazil, where universities don’t have lectures or TAs.

“It was a great experience, because I got to teach at the only level I hadn’t taught before,” she said. “It was a very different experience to be able to help people achieve their goals, even in a tiny way, in their first-year English course. It was fun to connect with students from all over and share this experience of being new to something.”

Studying in Canada hasn’t come without challenges, with Garcia at times facing stereotypes imposed upon international students. But the experience has been overwhelmingly positive and she’s keenly aware of the investment that has been made in her at Brock.

“There have been so many highlights,” she said of her time at the University, which she praised for making her feel like a person rather than just another number.

Garcia said she felt welcome by both the University and the English Department, and she was appreciative of extra funding and emergency bursaries she was offered during the pandemic.

Now working on her PhD at the University of Western Ontario, Garcia is grateful for the opportunity to give back to others through teaching. Growing up in an area she describes as disadvantaged in southern Brazil, she believes in the importance of good education.

“The only reason I’m here today is because I had access to good public education,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to give back and it had never occurred to me that I could give back in the post-secondary system.”

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