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Corbett alum Sofia Ngieng on the impact of virtual exchange

February 24, 2022

One year ago I could not have imagined where I am today. One year ago, I was a second year student attending the University of British Columbia just going through the motions of being your everyday student; I got good grades, had a part-time job, and went out with friends. In November of 2020, I received an email from an advisor at UBC about a scholarship opportunity, decided to apply for it and see if it worked out. That scholarship was for the Corbett Virtual Exchange Program and when my application was successful my academic and personal life changed in ways I could have never imagined.

The premise of the virtual program was supposed to be similar to the pre-COVID, in-person exchanges between the University of Washington, University of British Columbia, and University of Victoria. As someone who had participated in the Rotary Exchange program and had moved to Denmark at the age of 16 as a student, I had doubts about how this experience would be able to emulate an in-person exchange. As a preface: before experiencing my virtual exchange, I viewed my exchange to Denmark as the only catalyst for change in my life. I was that person who could not stop talking about how living abroad changed their life. Yet, as my virtual exchange to the University of Washington commenced I began to realize how wrong I had been before. My virtual exchange was everything and more that an in-person exchange would have been. Don’t get me wrong, seeing a physical place in real life is an amazing experience, but what I realized during my Corbett Exchange is that it is not about where the experience is; it is about how much you commit to the experience. As a Corbett Scholar I found myself taken out of my comfort zone as I was pushed to attend virtual events at the University of Washington, discover my own home university (UBC), and research my own policy brief on U.S.-Canada Indigenous Border-Crossings and Cross-Border Issues Before and After COVID-19.

In the process of achieving all of these things I was reaching out to other Corbett Scholars, meeting with professors from different universities, and creating connections with role models that will last. The end goal of my Corbett Exchange was to create a final project that showed engagement with cross-border topics between Canada and the USA. As I mentioned before, I chose to write a policy brief on U.S.-Canada Indigenous Border-Crossings and Cross-Border Issues Before and After COVID-19. Throughout my research for this brief I had the opportunity to talk to professors from universities on both sides of the border, Indigenous leaders, and lawyers. This three-page policy brief completely changed the course of my academic, career, and personal aspirations. After learning so much and hearing many stories of success and injustice surrounding my policy brief’s topic, I decided that my path would continue down the route it was headed. After successfully completing my Corbett Exchange I could clearly envision where I wanted my education to take me: in the direction of law school and, eventually, practicing Aboriginal and environmental law.

Not only did my experience as a Corbett Scholar give me direction in my career path, but it also helped me develop crucial skills that are needed to be successful in all areas of life. Most importantly, it taught me to say “yes” to new opportunities no matter how big or little they may seem; even opportunities that seem small can make a huge difference in your life. Saying “yes” to small opportunities has provided me with huge opportunities to get involved in my student union, student politics, local politics, and many other influential positions. I can say with certainty that, without my experience as a Corbett Scholar I would not have gained the confidence to be where I am right now and feel the success that I feel in my everyday life. Being a Corbett Scholar is and always will be an achievement that I am proud to say, helped me grow as an individual, friend, and academic. Every day I am so glad that I decided to apply for the Corbett Virtual Fellowship because the skills I learned and people that I met have helped guide me to the place that I am at in my life today.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.