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September 21, 2005

Source: University of Toronto:

Eye of the Storm

Students find safe harbour at U of T

Sep 21/05

by Michah Rynor (about) (email)

They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and in the wake of hurricane Katrina, a handful of American students have found that silver lining right here at U of T. Like a number of North American universities, U of T administrators agreed to waive tuition fees and find accommodation for American students who lost their semester as a result of the devastating hurricane that struck Aug. 29.

“Our goal is to assist in returning some sense of normalcy for the students and to help our sister universities in the U.S. resume normal operations as soon as possible,” says Professor Vivek Goel, acting president and vice-president and provost, in a statement.

Tim Steinhelsner, a 19-year-old Tulane University psychology (pre-law) student, is one of the five new faces on campus as a result of Katrina. When the evacuation order came, Steinhelsner grabbed a couple of changes of clothing, threw them into a gym bag and drove to Houston with a friend to wait out the storm, not realizing the severity of the situation.

“Everyone at Tulane was sad and shocked but we didn’t have much time to think about it because we had to scramble to find a university to go to,” says Steinhelsner, who is originally from Ohio. “This is only going to be for four months [the latest update from Tulane anticipates a January reopening] so I wanted to see a city and culture I didn’t know much about,” he says. “I applied to five Canadian cities and picked U of T.”

He admits that, like many Americans, he didn’t know much about Canada and had never been to this country before “but my political science prof at Tulane teaches his students that Toronto is the best example in the world of a truly multicultural city. Other than that, most Americans know that Canada is that country to the north and that’s it.”

And while he “loves” Toronto, especially the downtown Yonge, Bloor and Church Street districts, he sees numerous differences between T.O. and the Big Easy.

“U of T is a much bigger university of course and the culture of the students here is different as well,” he says. “One thing I’ve noticed is that walking down the sidewalks I hear students still carrying on the academic discussions from class, which is something I don’t hear at Tulane. Also, New Orleans is much more laid back than Toronto. For example, a bus driver may stop the bus, use the washroom, buy a coffee and then have a conversation with the neighbours -- which would get weird looks here.”

David Wand, another evacuee, is, ironically, Ottawa-born and Toronto-raised. A grad student in Tulane’s international development program, he was, oddly enough, in Sri Lanka this past July learning about the recent tsunami.

“Those same profs from Tulane who teach about disasters like that are now having to learn how to rebuild their own backyards,” he says. At age 45, he’s becoming a veteran of evacuations. Last year, he had to pack up and leave when hurricane Ivan hit New Orleans. Luckily, he only has to fly there one more time to defend his dissertation -- his exams can be completed online.

“Everyone here has been wonderful finding me housing and everything,” he enthuses. “I moved to this city when I was 16 so this is absolutely like coming home in a way. I’m still very impressed by U of T’s willingness to accommodate me so quickly."



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