Rob Poulus

While studying in Ecuador, Rob Poulus got to visit the Amazon

Rob Poulus is a 3rd-year student studying history and Spanish and the recipient of two donor-funded travel awards. He shared his story in a thank you letter to the donors of those awards.

Dear donors,

My first go at UVic was a failure. I could blame many things. My decision to move out of residence and live off-campus in my second semester. My lack of self-motivation. Not bothering to go to class. But the main reason was my addiction problem. Before the end of that semester, I’d been academically suspended.

I moved back to Vancouver, then traveled overseas for a number of years. I burnt so many bridges I became isolated from people who cared about me. I thought I was doing exactly what I wanted, but actually I was in the grip of something that was controlling my life.

In the end, I had to decide if I would let my addiction control my future too. I decided not. I went into treatment, and since then, life rapidly picked up.

Immediately I knew I wanted to return to UVic. It irked me that I had started something (my degree) and not given it my best effort. I remembered how much I’d enjoyed the classes I’d actually shown up to. I knew moving back to Victoria would be good for me. But I had a lot of work to do before the university would accept me back.

I attended Camosun College and got straight As in the courses I needed for re-entry. In the fall of 2016, I was back at UVic as a first-year student and I’ve gotten As in every class since then. That’s mainly because I am so motivated now, but also because I’m really enjoying the experience of furnishing my brain with all this knowledge. I don’t have a clear vision for the future, so I’m studying the subjects I enjoy, which so far has been history and Spanish.

Success for me has been a mix of hard work and dedication, but I’ve also taken advantage of opportunities when they arise. Last year I discovered I could do a semester abroad. It turned out I had the grades to go, and even qualified for financial help through the Anne and Ivor Williams Spain and Latin America Scholarship and the Elias Mandel Prize for Study Abroad in Hispanic and Latin.

Before I knew it, I was on my way to Ecuador. I was apprehensive for sure. How would I cope in this new environment? Would I be able to keep my grades up? Was my Spanish good enough to get by?

Looking back on the experience, I got more from it than I ever anticipated. Being immersed in the language and culture drastically improved my skills. When I first arrived I had some basic phrases, and by the end of the stay, I was having conversations about politics over dinner with my host family.

The experience simply would not have been possible if I had not received the awards.

My goal after graduation is to do a graduate degree in history, hopefully somewhere abroad. I know my addiction will be with me for life, but I’m learning to live life to the fullest in spite of that. My past is no longer something I try to hide from, but rather a source of strength from which I draw incentive to move forward.

The emotional aspect of winning these awards was more important to me than the dollar figure. You see, the awards validated within me the idea that doing well in school is within my scope, that experiencing my life more fully is within my reach, and that listening to the awakening passions within rewards me far more than I could have ever imagined.

I also know that I could never do this alone. With your help, I’ll be able to explore my passions. I cannot yet report to what end I follow these passions. However, I do know that if I follow that which I love, the opportunities will make themselves apparent. I believe the semester abroad was one of them.

In 2010 I sat in crippling, immobilizing despair. Now I sit here with a far different problem. I find it difficult to fully express my gratitude to you. Words do not paint emotional pictures well. However, I will attempt to do so in the best way I know how. That is to simply say, “Thank you."

Yours sincerely,

John (Rob) Poulus