Convocation '19: A Passion for Learning

For Niabi Kapoor, earning a degree is more than just academics; it's about trying new things

Donna McKinnon - 06 June 2019

Stepping outside of comfort zones has been a driving force in Niabi Kapoor's academic life.

Initially enrolled in an animal science program, Niabi switched to the Faculty of Arts after her second year because she felt drawn to literary studies in both English and Spanish, acknowledging that it was ultimately more rewarding to excel at something she loved.

"I was meant to be in Arts," she says, "I feel like I thrived."

Spanish, in particular, called to her, but the ideas and post-colonial subject matter she was studying in the department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies paralleled her coursework in English and Film Studies, and she felt it would ultimately make for a stronger degree.

"It's trippy how complementary the two fields of study are," says Niabi, naming Rachel Prusko Lahoucine Ouzgane, Katarina Primorac, Delma Gil-Wilson, and Stephen Cruikshank as instructors who helped her to navigate the rigours of a double-major. "I don't think people realize how much patience it takes to teach another language, and how important it is to create an environment where students feel comfortable."

Undaunted by the increased workload, which she augmented by earning a Certificate in Translation Studies, Niabi continued to feed her passion for learning by taking on multiple volunteer roles, including one with theUAlberta Ambassador program, which she says instilled in her "a lot of pride" for the history of the University of Alberta; an orientation leader, and later, a team facilitator with Week of Welcome; and a four-year stint as astudent writer for YOUAlberta.

"It kind of snowballed into one opportunity arising out of another, but by that time I was used to incorporating volunteering into my academic schedule, so it wasn't too difficult," says Niabi, who admits that she didn't really make any friends at university until she started volunteering.

In 2017, she interrupted her studies for a year to work as a Communications and Program Support Intern with theArts Work Experience program. She credits the internship, and its facilitators Amber Nicholson and Laura Kerslake, with showing her the value of a supportive workplace, and for giving her a glimpse "behind the scenes" in the Faculty of Arts - a place students are not often privy to.

"There are such good intentions," she says. "So much passion to make student life better!"

While these roles extended her time as a student, it left Niabi feeling prepared for life beyond her degree. "I've heard the real world is scary," she laughs. "But through these experiences, I've met so many amazing people, and it taught me how to be more disciplined with my time, and how to communicate with people respectfully. Taking one year to work is not a huge deal in the span of your life."

Faculty of Arts Spring Convocation - Niabi Kapoor
Niabi, with her Arts Work Experience team Amber Nicholson, Taylor Joseph and Laura Kerslake

It was a course she took in Cuba, however, through a study abroad program organized by Modern Languages and Cultural Studies that Niabi says took her learning to a "whole other level". EntitledMyths and Realities, the three-week course focused on misperceptions about Cuba, while giving students the opportunity to practice Spanish in real-life situations.

"There's nothing better than learning about people and events in your textbook, and then going to that actual site," says Niabi. "We talked a lot about perceptions of Cuba from the outside, and then we explored the existing political climate in Santiago, where we were situated. To see the literal effect that nationalism and communism has had on the people - and participating in events like the May Day parade which is a big deal in Cuba, it's such a privilege. Also, there's hardly any wi-fi there so the interactions were a lot more genuine. If you made plans with someone, you couldn't message them to cancel. It holds you accountable!"

Faculty of Arts Spring Convocation - Niabi Kapoor

The daughter of immigrants from Darjeeling, India who grew up several blocks from each other (but didn't meet until they were both students at the University of Alberta!), academia comes naturally for Niabi, who hasn't ruled out graduate school in journalism or translation studies at some point. For now, however, she is hoping to spend a year in Spain as a teaching assistant, or if not that, staying open to whatever comes next.

"I don't want to be that person who has my whole life planned out," she laughs. "It's unrealistic and stressful, and it's really important to stay open to opportunities, because that's where you find new interests and abilities. Don't freak out if things don't go to plan - that's where the discovery is!"

Read more:

Graduating and 20 Messages of Thanks for Getting Me To Convocation by Niabi Kapoor (YOUAlberta)

The Best Advice I've Heard from Profs by Niabi Kapoor (YOUAlberta)