Grad Guidance: Ian and Catherine Kawpeng

Interview by Seline Kawpeng

Graphic by Sophia Almendral

Catherine Kawpeng, graduate of 2017 and former managing editor of Winston, and Ian Kawpeng, graduate of 2018 and former head of service learning, share their experiences at The University of Toronto. They provide insight on their academic curriculum, the hurdles they’ve faced and most importantly, what college is like with a sibling.


What school do you go to and course do you major in?


Catherine: I am currently a second year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in both Economics and Environmental Studies.


Ian: I go to the University of Toronto and I am currently majoring in Human Physiology.


How would you describe the environment and the people in UofT?


Catherine: I’d say that the environment of UofT is very competitive yet very individualistic as well; you don’t necessarily know the grades of your peers but you definitely feel the competitive pressure to excel in all your classes since naturally everyone is striving for the same goal. On the other hand, I’d say that making friends in UofT can be quite challenging at the start since it is a commuters school and many choose to go home everyday instead of staying on campus. But I think that once you make the effort to reach out and meet new people you’ll find that everyone is very open and friendly – making it easy to find similarities despite the different cultural backgrounds.


Ian: I would say that it’s quite refreshing; because you’re forced to put yourself out there, you’re exposed to more people with a greater diversity of backgrounds, who are extremely driven to exceed in their field. You can’t help but feel motivated to do your best as well, especially with so much competition around you.


What would you say was the biggest change moving from BSM to The University of Toronto?


Catherine: I think the biggest change was definitely the class size; in BSM each  class had around 12 students, whereas in UofT a lot of my first year courses had 1000 students in one lecture hall. However, I think that this change is really beneficial as it forces you to become more independent. You quickly learn that no one is going to be on top of you anymore, paying attention to whether you go to class or not or whether you do the homework assignments – so you definitely learn to grow as an individual and take responsibility of your own learning.


Ian: In UofT, many opportunities will be presented to you but it’s up to you to take them or not – you’re responsible for yourself. I also think that in UofT, because of the large class sizes, it’s hard to form that close connection with your teachers that you might be able to in BSM. So, I guess, you need to put in some effort to stand out amongst the other 1000 students.


What’s it like going to the same college as your sibling?


Catherine: Honestly, I initially dreaded it because first of all, he’s my brother, and secondly, we have very different lifestyle paces and different habits. My brother is very mellow and less organized than I am so I was worried that we would clash on many things. In the end, it all worked out; since UofT is such a big school it’s nice to have someone who’s always there to talk to at the end of the day and reminds you of home.


Ian: Well, there are many flaws but with them come equally great moments. Obviously, having an older sister helped me so much in the transition – it’s nice to come home to a familiar face and to feel that home is not so far away. And as a result, I’d say we’ve also gotten a lot closer.


Are you involved in any school clubs or activities? And is it easy to do so?


Catherine: Yes, I am involved in 3 school organizations right now. Currently, I am the corporate relations manager for AIESEC, the largest student run organization in the world. I am also part of a consulting organization that helps non-profit organizations pinpoint their weaknesses and improve on them. Thirdly, I am treasurer of an environmental organization called ‘Jane Goodall’s roots and shoots’. I would say that it’s really easy to join clubs in UofT. Usually there is an interview that takes place but if you act genuinely and can easily identify your strengths and weaknesses, then you’re sure to get in – they just want to know the real you.


Ian: Like I said, the opportunities are presented to you in UofT but you need to take the initiative to grab it. Currently, I am a research assistant at the Sick Kids Hospital, focusing specifically on cardiovascular health of heart transplant patients. I’d say it’s easy to find an ASA that’s suited towards your interests since there’s so many different clubs you could join.


How’s learning different from BSM?


Catherine: I’d say that you’re less spoon-fed in university as the class sizes are bigger, so you really have to take the initiative to study outside of school hours or approach your teachers when you need help on a specific area. But other than that, there are a lot of similarities to BSM, or high school in general. For example, you have a lot of small assignments and quizzes that take place through the whole semester and then at the end of each one, you have a final exam which is cumulative to whatever you’ve learned. However, I think that going through IB in BSM put me at an advantage compared to others who didn’t because I feel like I’m able to write coherent essays more easily and [because] the study habits were already instilled in me.


Ian: In BSM, the class sizes are extremely small so the learning experience is much more hands on, but here in UofT, its either you sink or you swim. I think you need to be a lot more dependent on yourself and on a small group of classmates so that it’s easier to balance both your social life and your academic one – you can always rely on them to help you if you get confused.


Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to go to UofT?


Catherine: I think that the type of person who would thrive in UofT is someone who is comfortable being alone sometimes but at the same time is willing to put in the effort to branch out and meet new people. In high school you see your friends everyday but in UofT you don’t necessarily become friends with the first person you sit beside or the people who take the same course as you. In my case, I didn’t make friends with the people in my classes but rather, other people who came from the Philippines, through my clubs and organizations, and from my dorm.


Ian: First of all, you can’t be too dependent on your teachers and you have to learn to cope with being a random face in the crowd for your first few months, rather than being a leading figure in your school.


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