Minds We Meet—Laura Szabo

Laura Szabo lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and works as a full-time administrative assistant.  She is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Health Administration program at Athabasca University.  This is her story.

Can you give us a little bit of background information about yourself? Who are you? Where do you live, where do you come from? What program are you in?

My name is Laura Szabo, and I am from Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I am currently doing my Bachelor of Health Administration part-time while I work full-time as an Administrative Assistant for the Victorian Order of Nurses of Canada in Halifax.  I am a 22-year-old woman trying to balance all aspects of my life and focusing on self care and growth.

Could you describe the path that led you to AU? What was it that made you realize you wanted to go back to school, and what pushed you into the Bachelor of Health Administration program?

When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to do.  I had always wanted to be a nurse like my mother, but a benign hand tremor that I have had my whole life prevented me from completely steadying my hands (dexterity and control would be very important when giving a patient a needle, I imagine!)

When that plan fell through, I enrolled in Medical Office Administration at Nova Scotia Community College.  For my work placement, I chose to go to the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), as I was interested in working for a non for profit- I thought that it would be rewarding.  After being hired during my work placement at VON, I accepted the position as Administrative Assistant I and began working at the front desk at the Halifax site.  I come from a family of high achievers and academics.  I had always felt insecure about being the first person in my family to not have gone to university, but I felt that insecurity alone wasn’t a good reason to pursue higher education.  After some time at my job, I began to accept the role of taking on college students at the front desk to shadow me for their work placement.  I really liked the mentorship and leading aspect of that, and I decided I am interested in leadership and management.  That realization gave me that extra push to look into part time university degrees.  Health Administration at Athabasca seemed like a natural fit and I am enjoying it so far!

Do you have any advice for people who are on the fence about going back to school?

My advice to anyone who is on the fence about upgrading education or starting something new would be to do it for yourself, this is your education, your interests and your development.  Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing something that you don’t want to do.

What are your plans for this education once you finish? What would be your dream job?

When the time comes for me to finish my degree, I would like to stay within my organization (VON).  I am not sure where my career path will take me, and I am still early on in my degree.  I am excited to continue to learn about career opportunities for someone in my field.  My dream job would be one that enabled me to lead staff and still have some face to face connection with clients and patients.

What do you do like to do when you are not studying? Any hobbies?

When I am not studying, I like to visit my grandfather, who I am very close with.  I like to cook and like to try new recipes when I have time.  I recently bought a pasta machine and am going to try making homemade pasta next.  Other than that, I like to go on drives and short road trips across my beautiful province.

What is one of your favorite recipes that you have tried? Where do you tend to find your recipes?

My favorite recipe that I have tried is chicken paprikash.  A classic Hungarian dish, but it is not a family recipe.  I got this recipe from the Betty Crocker International Cookbook of all places! It’s very authentic.  I am always looking on Pinterest for new things to cook.  Sometimes it doesn’t turn out, especially when I try to substitute dairy products for other things.  I am lactose intolerant, so I have to be crafty when modifying recipes.

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?

Family members past and present have influenced my desire to learn.  I come from a family whose academic history involves Harvard graduates, PhD’s and master’s degrees.  I have always felt like somewhat of a black sheep since my desire to learn has not been as strong as other family members.  However, as time goes on, my desire to learn is becoming stronger.  I would like to think this desire, at least in part, comes from within.

Could you describe your experience with online learning so far?

I really like the self paced nature of online learning.  I like being able to pick it up and put it down when I need to.  Working full-time while doing school can be very tiring, and some nights I just need to rest up and take a break from studying.  This program allows for that.  I never thrived in the classroom environment, which often goes hand in hand with learning.  I am now empowered to learn outside of the classroom environment.

At what point did you waver the most about continuing your schooling? What caused it and what got you through it?

When I was in middle school, my grade 8 teacher took me out in the hallway in the middle of class and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I told her I wanted to be a nurse, and she told me I wasn’t smart enough to go to University.  I was mortified and humiliated.  After that talk, my self confidence and grades dropped.  Those words stuck with me for years to come and played a role in my choice to not go to University out of high school.  I scraped by and settled with that.  I continued to scrape by in college attendance and grades wise.  Once getting my first professional job, my confidence was greatly boosted, and I saw myself as someone who was capable and smart for the first time in a long time.  After a few years of building up that confidence, I thought about what the next step would look like for me career wise.  I thought about University, and I heard those negative words from my teacher in a back of my head.  After some encouragement from my family, I put those doubts aside and took a leap of faith in myself and this degree.  I love the program I am doing now, and believe I most definitely am smart enough to go to university.

What’s your favorite AU course that you have taken so far, and why? Would you recommend ENGL 255 to other students?

I really enjoyed ENGL 255 (Introductory Composition).  After being out of school for a few years, my writing skills were a bit rusty.  That course helped me get back into the flow of writing.  I would recommend that course to anyone who is looking to brush up on their English writing skills.

Have you given up anything to go to AU? Was it worth it?

I have given up my free time.  In my free time off from work, I am either studying or thinking about studying.  I also miss out on hanging out with friends.  A chunk of my salary goes to my tuition, so I miss the extra spending money.  All these sacrifices are worth it.  It was my choice to go back to school, so I must own it.

How do you find communications with your course tutors?

Communication with course tutors depends on the course.  Generally, communication from staff is satisfactory.  Follow up from instructors is very important to me since I am not in a physical classroom.  Lag in communication makes me feel somewhat forgotten about.  Any questions that I think they can’t answer, I will ask on the Athabasca Student app.  Other students are helpful.  It feels like Athabasca has a strong student community even though a lot of students are doing distance education and are far away from one another.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?

I would love to have lunch with Casey Kasem, the host of American Top 40.  He has since passed, but he used to be the host of a radio show that my Dad and I used to listen to on the weekends.  I love the sound of his voice and his unique way of telling stories.  He seemed like an interesting person to get to know.  I always joke that in another life, I was a radio DJ, preferably Casey Kasem.

Could you describe the proudest moment in your life?

The proudest moment in my life was my college graduation day.  Despite facing much adversity, it was one of my first real “adult” accomplishments.  Although I struggled through college, I persevered.  I am glad I pushed through, because that college certificate got me to where I am today.

Have you traveled? Where has life taken you so far?

I have travelled a fair bit for someone my age.  I feel very blessed to have seen what I have seen.  I have been to across North America and to Europe.  I went to Hungary in 2016 to meet my extended family for the first time and absolutely loved it.  It was exactly how I imagined it, but way warmer.  Currently, with studying and paying tuition, travel has been put on the back burner.  When I finish my degree, I would like to celebrate by going back to Europe.

Where would you like to travel to in Europe once you finish your degree? Do you have any bucket list travel destinations?

I would like to return to Budapest, Hungary when I graduate.  There was a lot I didn’t get a chance to see, so I have a list of places that I would like to go to.  My bucket list destination is Israel, I hope I make it there one day.

What do you like most about travelling?

My favorite thing about travelling is that I get a new perspective on life.  I tend to live a bit of a bubble and travelling helps me get out of that.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now? Could you describe the book? Would you recommend others to read it?

I am currently reading Maus by Art Spiegelman.  It is a graphic novel and details the story of Art’s father, Vladek, as a Holocaust survivor and their strained father-son relationship.  Art is a cartoonist, and gets his father agrees to have a graphic novel written about his life.  All the Jews in the novel are represented as mice, and the Nazi’s are represented in the form of large cats.  The book is based on the true story of a Holocaust survivor, so it is naturally upsetting and unsettling.  However, I would recommend this book for those who want to learn more about the Holocaust through a different medium.

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