Nunavik student overcomes the challenge of college in Montreal
“Learning never ends – we learn our whole lives”
It’s back to school season across the country, and that means a long trip south for many Inuit post-secondary students.
This year, 43 new Nunavik students said goodbye to family and friends and headed south to study, with a total of 78 Nunavummiut students registered in post-secondary programs outside the region.
Minnie Molly Snowball is one of them — the 18-year-old from Kangiqsualujjuaq has just begun her second year of college at Montreal’s John Abbott College in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue on the West Island.
Snowball says her first year was filled with positive experiences; finding her voice, exploring the city nearby and meeting new people, including famed environmentalist David Suzuki.
But like many students who travel hundreds of kilometres south to school — it isn’t always easy.
Snowball said she was dealing with a difficult personal situation in the winter that pushed her back home for a few months.
“I wouldn’t call it culture shock, because I’m used to travelling away from home,” Snowball said. “But it’s a change of environment. Everything I see here is built and unearthy.”
After Snowball graduated from high school in 2012, she and three other high school graduates from Kangiqsualujjuaq headed south to study.
Now Snowball is the only one still there. This year, another three Kangiqsualujjuaq students have come to study at John Abbott — her 17-year-old sister Saladie is one of them.
And that makes it easier to be away from home.
“Since I’ve been growing up, I’ve always wanted to go to college, and my parents have always encouraged me,” Snowball said. “It’s been my dream, being a kind of person who is interested in learning, it wasn’t hard for me.
“It’s been easy for me to adjust, even though I miss home.”
Snowball had the benefit of a few months at home and on the land before this year’s classes began.
She was hired as a junior leader at the kANGIDLUASUk student program in Newfoundland’s Torngat Mountains national park, where she tagged along with geologists, hiked, and practiced her throat-singing.
And that time on the land did her good, she says.
Snowball said one of the biggest barriers for her fellow students is language — in the case of John Abbott college, it’s learning to live in a French-speaking city, while studying entirely in English — which are both often second and third languages for Nunavimmiut students.
But despite the challenges Nunavik’s students face leaving home to pursue their education, 78 Nunavimmiut students are studying at various post-secondary progams. Twelve of these students attend universities, but the majority of these students are enrolled at John Abbott.
And the Kativik School Board says those numbers point to a gradual increase in post-secondary school enrollment among its graduates: between 2003 and 2008, an average of 56 KSB graduates registered at various colleges and universities each year.
In 2012, 86 Nunavimmiut students were enrolled at post-secondary institutions.
Ask Snowball what the key to success is, and she’ll tell you it’s tapping into personal interests and finding a “comfort zone” to work in.
To help get settled into her second year, Snowball made the decision to live on her own for the first time in her life. She’s renting an apartment in nearby Dorval.
“It’s okay,” she laughs in response to a question about how that’s going. “There’s a lot of housework I have to do — I have to keep schoolwork and housework at the same level.”
Snowball is still working on finishing high school-level courses, focusing this year on math and chemistry. She hopes to move into a diploma program in 2014, but she admits that she doesn’t have her whole future planned out.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot this summer, but I can’t say that I really want to be a teacher, or a police officer or a lawyer — I don’t have a career path,” she said. “I like trying different things. And right now, my focus is on getting a college degree.”
So far, Snowball says she’s drawn to the social sciences.
She’d also light to brush up on her Inuktitut — and perhaps oddly, she thinks about going to France to study Inuktitut.
But her advice to any Nunavimmiut students starting college or finishing high school and trying to plan what’s next: do what you love.
“It doesn’t necessary have to be school, but if you do what you love, it will never feel like a chore,” Snowball said. “Right now, in this world, education is the key to success. You can become whatever you want to be.
“But learning never ends — we learn our whole lives.”