How one journalism student plans to use her degree and diverse background to create global impact.
When Melissa Salamo was growing up in Aruba, community was defined as an extension of family, people who were engaged and supportive of one another. Though the small Caribbean island seems the opposite of a densely populated city like Toronto, Melissa was able to find a part of that cultural trait at Ryerson through a chance meeting at Ryerson’s Pitman Hall residence. “I was very nervous, I thought ‘my parents are leaving, I’m going to be on my own.’ I got on the elevator, hoping to find a place to eat, and I met a floormate,” she recalls of her first day. Following a brief conversation and breakfast, Melissa found common similarities with her floormate. “We started becoming friends, then best friends and now this person is my roommate. It was cool to see how just a little ‘where are you going?’ started a huge friendship, and I consider him my brother now.”
Before joining Ryerson, Melissa had applied to six universities across the United States. Based on her interest in communications and marketing, Melissa’s mentor and high school English teacher suggested she check out the Ryerson School of Journalism. Upon applying, Melissa was accepted into the undergraduate program, but it was her intuition, she says, that led her to ultimately choose Ryerson.“In the end, I followed a gut feeling I had. I wanted something different and new. I didn’t know that much about Canada. I didn’t even visit Ryerson, but I saw videos online and read the way things were written, and got a vibe [of the university] through social media.”
Now in her third year, Melissa says the program has met her expectations and given insight to the multifaceted industry. “When I started, we established the fundamentals of what we needed. In my second year it really started to broaden up, we learned about the different mediums. You’re exposed to a lot, and you get to pick what you like, which is really cool. I feel I can do so much with my journalism degree.”
Melissa actively participates around campus. She co-founded the Ryerson chapter of the Organization of Latin American Students’ (OLAS) group, works at the International Student Support (ISS) as a lead mentor supporting other students from the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD), all while contributing to the student newspaper, The Eyeopener. Melissa, along with two friends, has also piloted an online project, ImmigrantsofTO, providing a platform for immigrant voices. “Through working with ISS and OLAS, I surrounded myself with a lot of immigrants and newcomers, and I noticed that each person had a very particular story, so I started the Instagram page. It’s similar to the Humans of New York, taking pictures of people with a story or quote as a caption.”
One of the biggest adjustments for Melissa as an international student has been the weather, but it’s something she doesn’t mind. “The first time it snowed, I was so excited. I find it beautiful, the way I think about it is, I grew up loving snow globes and now I’m living in one,” she describes. Similar to Toronto’s winter, Melissa finds the opportunities that come with a university located in downtown a welcoming change.
This October, Melissa took part in CanStudyUS, a hands-on opportunity in Chicago to learn more about the geopolitical climate leading up to the US midterm elections. The trip was organized by both the Ryerson Leadership Lab and the Democratic Engagement Exchange. “It was a week of intense learning, where we compared American culture to Canadian culture and politics. It was eye-opening.” Currently, Melissa is preparing for an upcoming exchange opportunity to study at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, offered through the journalism program.
Using her academic skills and cross-cultural understanding, Melissa plans to work for the non-profit sector in the future, assisting immigrant families during their transition period to a new country. “Because my family has a lot of background with immigration, I know there could be a loss of hope in that whole process. I want to do something along the lines of giving people hope and helping them out,” she says.
As for transitioning to Ryerson, Melissa advises her fellow international students to immerse themselves in the campus community and stay connected. “When you come here you think, ‘oh I’m an international student, I should just think of myself as an outsider, I don’t belong in everything.’ But it’s good to expand and learn a little bit about the Ryerson community, and get more involved in different student groups and classes.”