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Friendly School and Work Environments
In Canada and the United States

Finding a friendly school or place of employment where you will feel welcome and be productive

Where you attend school or work greatly impacts the quality of your life. After all, you spend most of your waking hours there.

In the United States, most heart attacks occur at or near 9:00 a.m. Monday morning. That is the most typical starting time for the work week.

This page helps you pick an uplifting university or work environment that you will enjoy—that will have a positive impact on your health and well being.

You'll also receive tips for finding an environment where you will "fit in"—a place where you will be comfortable with the other people.

Some universities are more friendly than others, and you'll find it easier to make friends in these environments. Smaller schools are said to be friendlier than larger ones, but there are certainly exceptions, such as the University of Southern California and UCLA.

Most families in southern California came from somewhere else (some 10 percent from Canada alone in Orange County, the location of Disneyland), so people are used to striking up conversations with people who they do not know.

Talk to people

How can you tell if a school environment is warm and friendly prior to applying? How can you tell if the academic atmosphere suits you?

Well, talk to people. Ask questions.

Be friendly, but ask blunt questions.

"I am very concerned about what I eat. Does your food service prepare most meals from fresh ingredients, or does it use mostly canned and frozen items?"

You are getting specific information here, but perhaps more importantly you are testing the attitudes of those who reply.

If your questions are unwelcome, watch out.

Talk to a wide variety of people, not only in the admissions and student aid departments, but also in housing, food service, accounting, and certainly in your planned academic department. If telephoning for information, ask to speak to current students. They will tell you what the place is really like.

Focus on your academic department

If the head of your prospective academic department and her professors seem aloof and unfriendly, that is a very bad sign. That alone should make you very uneasy.

While the primary mission of a great university may not be to make people feel good, the people who administer and teach in your department may set the tone of your entire time there.

And, if others on staff seem bureaucratic and disinterested, well, you have learned what you need to know about that institution.

Visit campus

The best way to find out about a school is to visit the campus while school is in session.

Picking a university is a momentous decision and certainly worth an exploratory trip once you have done some preliminary investigation.

Block some time to explore on your own, instead of just taking organized tours. Also, venture into the area around campus.

Beware of commuter schools

Beware of commuter schools, such as two-year community colleges or even some provincial and state universities, where most students come from the immediate area, live at home, and keep their secondary school friendships.

It's harder to join a long-established group of friends.

You are better off at a school like McGill in Montreal where most people come as strangers, if you are a stranger.

Consider values

Pick a place that shares your values.

For example, if you love to learn and excel in your school work, beware of universities, sometimes well-known ones in both Canada and the U.S., where anti-intellectualism reigns.

If most students want nothing more than to have fun and party while waiting for the diploma that will bring a good job, you may not feel at home.

Again, ask. There is nothing wrong with fun, but you may want more balance.

The Claremont colleges (including Claremont Graduate University), Laval, Grinnell College, the University of Toronto, Harvard, Kenyon College, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Chicago, and Williams College are examples of more academic atmospheres, although not all of these may offer friendly living environments.

Dr. Voyageur defines "academic atmospheres" as schools where highly-motivated students frequently discuss academic subjects outside of their classrooms and where classroom discussions are lively.

Are you a vegetarian? Pick a school such as University of British Columbia, California State University at Humboldt, UC Santa Cruz, or Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. The first three campuses are in areas with many vegetarians. The last actually serves organic and not deliberately genetically engineered veggie meals to all its students.

Love the ballet? University of Toronto, Columbia University, etc.

Certainly not every student or even a majority of students at these universities will share your values, but you will find more like minded people than at many other places, which should make making friends easier.

A true university experience demands exposure to different ideas and values, but you want a comfortable base from which to gain this exposure.


Are you entering the job market instead of school? Then find a friendly company. After all, you will spend much of your time there.

How do you find a friendly company?

In exactly the same ways you find a friendly school.

Talk to people and ask questions. Especially get to know the people with whom you will work each day. You may spend more waking time with them than with anyone else.

Go To >> Making friends and meeting people

Go To >> Finding a suitable dorm or apartment

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