International Student Profiles

"I was privileged to captain the team and it was a really proud moment, representing my country.”

Name: Patrick Brandon Kwo

One of Patrick Brandon Kwo’s proudest moments – aside from winning a President’s International Scholarship of Excellence to York University – came when he captained the Mauritius national U20 soccer team in an international competition in Eswatini.

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"Canadian culture is much more welcoming and inclusive than I’m used to.”

Name: Arsh Dharani

Arsh, who is studying financial and business economics in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), wasn’t sure it would be possible for him to attain a full scholarship, because there was no response from York about the scholarship decisions until the very last, and his family kept encouraging him to make a decision quickly. 

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"It’s a good experience. York seemed like a really great place and it is.”

Name: Caitlin Brooker

Caitlin Brooker knew that if she wanted to pursue her dream of studying pharmaceutical chemistry, she’d have to leave the Caribbean to find a university with the appropriate expertise, and that meant applying for a scholarship.

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"My dream is to make Mongolia a better country and York is focused on sustainability, so it was a good fit for me.”

Name: Bolormaa Khurelbataar

Most students from Mongolia looking to study outside the country choose Korea, Japan or the United States as their post-secondary targets, but Bolormaa Khurelbataar sought a different experience.

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"My grassroots work for communities in the Philippines has led me here... I hope to reach out to institutions at York like the Young Lives Research Lab and the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research to see if they can offer help.”

Name: Qjiel Mariano

Qjiel Mariano is living proof that approaching endeavours with passion and commitment can lead to unexpected opportunities, such as a Tentanda Via Award scholarship to York University, thousands of miles from home.

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"[Canada] is also a multicultural, diverse society and York University, in particular, has a diverse environment. I thought it would give me a broader perspective..."

Name: Chenyang Yue

With his medical degree from China in hand, Chenyang Yue immigrated to Canada and returned to university to prepare himself for a career in the Canadian health-care sector. He has recently earned an honours BSc in biology from York and is looking at professional school options, such as medicine or dentistry.

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"[The Global Health Program] also expanded my view of health as I learned about the social determinants of health and how factors like system infrastructure, housing and the economy all have an impact."

Name: Essete Makonnen Tesfaye

As a high school student, Essete Makonnen Tesfaye realized that she was more interested in improving health-care systems than diagnosing individual patient illnesses but she didn’t know how to pursue that goal. Thanks to York University’s global health program, she discovered that a pathway existed.

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"York was one of my top choices. Since coming here, I have fallen in love with the city and the campus and have had lots of opportunities to get involved."

Name: Svati Balaji

When her father accepted a technology job in the United States, Svati Balaji moved with her family from India to California to finish her high school career and looked toward attending university in North America.

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"As a Black international student, I felt that York exhibited real diversity and an authentic sense of belonging"

Name: Issa Abdi Jamaa

Jamaa arrived in Canada as a teenager for secondary school before attending university. After exploring various Canadian universities, he selected York University as his choice due to its academic excellence and a vibrant multicultural and diverse community at the Keele campus.

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York University international student Rim Mhedhbi

"I was scared at first, but once I came to Toronto and saw the diversity, I did not feel like a stranger at all."

Name: Rim Mhedhbi

Rim's Mitacs internship brought her to Toronto and YorkU. She loved it here and decided to stay. Now, she is starting her Masters at York, in Information Systems & Technology (MAIST). In this interview, she candidly talks about her experience of coming to Toronto as an international student!

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Why did you choose YorkU?

A research organization called Mitacs makes internship opportunities for students to come to Canada’s top universities, and we get a chance to pick amongst multiple projects. The project that I really liked was the project of Professor Marina Erechtchoukova from York. The project talked about how machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques can try to predict floods in Canada. This project really captured my attention and so I applied to the project and got accepted! That's how I came to York for the first time!

But I had such a good experience at York, everyone was so helpful and friendly that I decided to come back for my Master's degree, which will be starting in September!

What did you like the most about York?

Actually some of my best experiences in Canada happened because of York. The research facilities are great. Whenever you need info or want to do research, everything will be available to you. You will never run out of resources here. Everyone will help you. I went to the writing center, I spent all my days in the library and that helped me a lot. The professors were really good too. They were willing to help me and guide me.

As an international student, how was your experience coming to Toronto?

My experience was really life-changing. Both academically and socially. Academically I got the chance to know various different techniques about machine learning, I got a chance to do a lot of experiments. Everything that I had a chance to hear about before, I was able to apply it in real life now.

Socially, it was nice to meet people from all over the world. The thing I liked the most about Toronto is that it's like a city with all the worlds combined. Like when I went on the bus I saw Indian people, Filipino people, Mexican people and I didn't feel out of place at all. I saw people from all over the world and they all felt at home in Toronto.

Did you get any cultural shocks when you first came to Canada? Or were you scared of anything?

When I was at home I was a little scared because people kept telling me I should be careful because I’ll be getting a culture shock once I go there. But when I actually went to Canada, I didn't feel like a stranger at all.

At first, though, I did feel a little lonely and homesick, because I didn't get to meet a lot of people, but then my supervisor and my mentor helped me meet other interns and then we all started to hang out together! That was pretty fun! Also, whenever I felt homesick I would just video call my parents! Advantages of the internet!

What are your favourite spots around Toronto?

Niagara falls was definitely my favourite. When I went on that trip with my friends, my mouth was open in awe the whole day! We went on the boat and we got near the falls and the water fell on us and we were all drenched! But I was really happy, it was a surreal experience. Probably one of the best experiences of my life. Even the town around Niagara falls, kind of like a theme park, was a great experience.

Another place I loved was Canada's Wonderland. It was so amazing. I thought I am gonna die on the roller coasters but I really enjoyed it! I went there with my friends and we made sure we went on all the roller coasters. I was shaking hahaha!

What are your favourite spots in York?

Definitely the library! Scott library is huge and the people that work there are wonderful. They helped me so much with my research and the environment there was perfect to help me study. I loved spending my time there!

What advice would you like to give other international students?

My first advice would be to just come. You should try your best to come and have this experience because it's life-changing. It really teaches you a lot. Not just from an academic perspective but also socially and mentally. Like one of the things that I learned is that all people are the same. People tend to differentiate it a lot but I think at the end of the day, we are all the same. And when you meet people from different cultures all together in one place, you get to understand on a deeper level that we are all the same. We are all just people.

When you experience different perspectives you become more open-minded. Coming here definitely taught me how to be compassionate, forgiving and loving.

York University international student Erhun Abbasli

"My advice to new international students would be to go out there and talk to as many people as possible!"

Name: Erhun Abbasli

Origin Country: Azerbaijan

Erhun is currently in the Film Production program at York. Not only is he an amazing film maker, but he is also a young entrepreneur who's growing his own social media page 'Filmmking'! Currently, he has over 230k followers and he has plans to grow bigger in the future. In this interview, he talks about his experiences as a York Student and a young entrepreneur!

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Tell me a little about yourself, where are you from?

My name is Erhun Abbasli and I am a third-year film production (BFA) student at York University. I am from Baku, Azerbaijan. It is a country in the Caucasus region and bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east. I speak four languages: Azeri, Turkish, Russian and English. I lived in the capital city Baku for more than 17 years but then decided to move to Toronto for my film career.

How did you choose York for film?

After my research, I found that the film industry is well developed in Canada and I wanted to take this opportunity to develop my skills and direct/produce my films. I found York University's Film Production degree program during my research and applied right away. I have also visited Canada before, so I knew that it would be the right decision to move here.

How was your experience moving to Canada as an international student? Were you scared? Nervous? Excited?

It was difficult for me to move from the country that I was bornin, to a foreign country with a different culture. I didn't have had any relatives or family members in Canada, so I was all by myself. But that was the purpose of it, starting a new life and career.

And how was your experience at York?

I made many connections at York, my residence and outside York with the help of social clubs. I attended many community activities and I was able to introduce myself to other people. I understood the fact that it is going to be difficult to move to Toronto but later I realized that it is a vital step that I should make for my future.

What are your favourite things to do in Toronto?

When I have spare time, I love visiting downtown and filming footage of people walking around. Also, I try my best to attend film festivals in Toronto as you can meet many filmmakers from all around the world. I volunteered in many small film festivals and that really helped me to get to know more people in the art sector.

What advice would you give to international students who will be coming to join us in Toronto soon?

I totally understand the difficulties, language barrier for International students but my advice to new international students would be to go out there and talk to as many people as possible. That's the best thing they can do for their career and also social life. That's the number one priority for me to expand my network in Canada as I would like to become a film producer in the future. Who knows maybe one of those persons could be your business partner, lifetime friend or offer you a deal that could literally change your life!

What got you interested in films and social media?

I was around 15 years old when I started my first Youtube channel. Then that passion turned into making short films using my smartphone. And then, I decided to start a film-related social media page called "Filmmking" when I was 16 years old. Social media is one of the powerful tools available to everyone and I just took the opportunity to start my own page.

How did you start your page? Were there any difficulties?

I started with the first step, which was sharing content twice a day consistently. I featured creative content creators and behind the scenes from movies and of cameras. I reached a lot of people in a very short time period. Then I created my online store and run it along with my social media accounts.

Do you manage the page alone?

After a year, my sister learnt my strategies and decided to join me and help me develop my business. Since then we are running it together for over 2 years and we reached from 0 followers to over 225k followers from all around the world. It has many benefits for my film career; Many film festivals invite me to promote them on my page and do live streams for them. Film Brands send us free film equipment to test and make unboxing videos for them.

Did the pandemic affect your business in any way?

The best part of my business is that it is completely online, and I do not have a physical store or anything, so thankfully the pandemic didn't affect us much.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses?

My advice for young entrepreneurs would be that they should learn more about online business models. There are many resources available on YouTube and the best part is that it is totally free. I recommend searching for online business models and just start at some point.

Use TikTok, Instagram, Facebook social media platforms for marketing and develop your skills. Start your own brand and turn it into your passive income. Then invest your money and repeat it. Never give up and solve problems that you face one by one. The key point is very simple, work hard and always believe in yourself!

York University International student, Dishti Zaveri

"Don’t think that you need to change yourself or change the way you are because you WILL find your group of friends. "

Name: Dishti Zaveri

Origin Country: Japan

Dishti, a Schulich student and an international student from Japan, talks about her adventures in Canada, and her experience at York! In this interview she tells us her favourite spots around Toronto and on campus, so read on to know more!

Read more about Dishti

Tell us a little about yourself! Where are you from? What program are you in?

I am Dishti Zaveri, I am from Kobe, Japan and I am a third-year student in the Schulich BBA course at York and will be specializing in marketing this coming fall!

So how did you decide to come to York to study?

It’s a funny story, I was planning to originally go to the UK to study, but my brother had told me that I should also consider Canada since it's such a welcoming country, especially for international students. So, I researched and found out about Schulich and how it's one of the best business schools in the country, and I decided to apply and got in! I then decided I want to go to Canada and not the UK and I am so glad I made that choice because I love it here.

And how was your experience coming to Toronto? Did it live up to your expectations?

It was an AMAZING experience. Weirdly, every person I came across was super nice and helpful. Like even when I came to York, on my first day of frosh, we were trying to find my res- Calumet and since the campus is HUGE, we kind of got lost. So then we saw a frosh leader and I went up to them to ask them for directions, and instead of just telling me the way, they were so nice that they walked me ALL the way to Calumet and back to my mom. Then afterwards they even showed me the long way and the shortcut so that it’s easier for me the next time I go. They were so nice!

What are your favourite places in Toronto?

OH, SO MANY! I would say I love ice skating at Nathan Philips during the winters, and most of the restaurants on Queen street are so good. There are also so many concerts and games happening in Scotia Bank Arena, so I love going there!

As an international student, what did you like the most about coming to York?

I think York made a huge effort in terms of including students, especially in residence.
They have a lot of social events in residence which are a great way to make new friends. And that's how I met a lot of people that are now close friends of mine!
I also think York has a LOT of cultural clubs, so I think because of those cultural clubs I was able to meet people who had similar backgrounds and interests as me.

What are your favourite spots on Campus?

I like the Bergeron lake area and the Quad area. Both these places are so chill and fun. And then of course York lanes because FOOD!

What have you been doing during the lockdown?

I am actually doing two internships right now. One of them is a digital marketing internship with a vegan skincare company based in Toronto. The other one is a marketing and creative writing internship at an NGO called ‘Immigrant Women in Business’. So, this NGO helps immigrant women in Canada start up their own businesses and my job here is basically helping with web and blog development, as well as social media posts.
I also just applied to become a mentor for Schulich, so we are going to be starting with mentor training and orientation soon, and I am really excited about that.

What advice would you give other international students coming to York?

Honestly, I feel like if we go somewhere new, it's easy for us to lose our personalities and try to change ourselves according to the people around us. And my advice would be don’t do that. Be yourself. York is a big university, there are thousands of students here and you will defiantly find someone who is like you, so don’t be scared to go out there and find people who are like you. Don’t think that you need to change yourself or change the way you are because you WILL find your group of friends eventually.

York University international student Mishal Vellani

"I thought that when I attended school in Canada, I’d meet Canadians, but there’s so much diversity. I’ve met students from so many different countries already and learned about different cultures."

Name: Mishal Vellani

Origin Country: Uganda

Mishal Vellani is a first-year earth and atmospheric science student at the Lassonde School of Engineering who lives in Kampala, Uganda. She shares her experience as an international student attending online classes.

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"I hope to show people that regardless of who they are or where they come from, they can succeed and land their dream opportunity!"

Name: Fikayo Aderoju

Origin Country: Nigeria

Fikayo Aderoju is a compassionate, enthusiastic, self driven and motivated leader. He is currently in his 4th year studying Economics and an Intake Manager at TD Bank. He's also a Peer Mentor for York University's Vanier College and a TD Campus Ambassador, where he connects students with fantastic opportunities. Fikayo's life mandate is to impact lives and inspire people. He truly loves helping others reach their full potential and become the best version of themselves.

Read more about Fikayo

Attitude of gratitude informs Aderoju's life

By Elaine Smith

Fikayo Aderoju attributes his successes in life to a Jesus and has turned his gratitude into action.

Aderoju, an international student from Nigeria who will be graduating with honours in economics from York University in 2022, and a circle of friends have created an informal charitable endeavour called Project Impacting Lives to give back to the Toronto community that has nurtured him throughout his undergraduate years.

“I’m a Christian and every single success in my life I attribute to God,” Aderoju says. “I didn’t want to wait until I was an alumnus to put some good out there, so in 2019, I started Project Impacting Lives with a group of friends. It’s a youth initiative to help people in need and make their lives better.”

The non-profit group got off to a rocky start when Fikayo and his friends decided to distribute food to the homeless in downtown Toronto and found the intended recipients weren’t tempted by the items they were offering.

“We didn’t give up; we decided to try again,” says Aderoju. “We became more strategic and did some research to see what was really needed. The next time, we brought emergency blankets, warm gloves and socks and we received tons of hugs in return. Last December, we gave out 100 packages on the street and we got lots of hugs.”

Using their personal funds and donations from their networks, the informal not-for-profit continues to “put some good out there.” This past summer, the friends participated in a food and fun fair in North York. They cooked dishes from Aderoju’s native Nigeria – chicken, jollof rice and plantains – and gave away meals to area residents and distributed some to the homeless. Recently, Project Impacting Lives raised money for a $1,100 scholarship to help a university student in financial need and then spread to word to potential applicants.

“We were worried about what we’d do if nobody applied, but we had 63 applicants,” Aderoju says. “The whole team has been reading through the applications. It’s hard to decide; there are so many great stories.”

Aderoju’s good works come from his heart and from his own experience. Although his parents pay his university tuition, he is responsible for his own living expenses and has been working while attending university to support himself. Since Oct. 2020, he has worked as a paid intern for TD Bank; first as a business analyst, then as an intake manager. He has also become a campus ambassador for TD, sharing his experiences and helping students get their resumes in front of the bank’s recruiters.

“Last May, I was begging for an internship and God blessed me,” Aderoju says. “I want to help 50 Black students get their own internships in 2022.”

Aderoju also assists fellow students in other ways. He is a peer mentor for Vanier College, coaching others on writing resumes and cover letter and he also serves as a Dean’s ambassador, motivating prospective high school students to attend York. In addition, he is a mentee in the Advancing Black Students stream of a new York University program, Advancing YU.

“I’m part of the inaugural class of mentees,” he says. “We meet monthly to get guidance on careers and navigating the corporate space.”

In fact, Aderoju is starting to explore career opportunities, since he’ll be graduating this coming spring, and whatever he learns about the process, he shares with others.

“Helping students isn’t work to me,” he says. “I like motivating myself and other people. I’m on this Earth to inspire people and impact their lives and I’m doing that to the best of my ability.”

Aderoju also feels blessed to have had the opportunity to attend York.

“I called the admissions office tirelessly until they let me in,” he says. “I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Although he initially dreamed of being an architect, he’s happier with his economics major.

“I like it a lot and I get to use what I learn in everyday life. I’ve learned time management and to ask for help when I need it, and I’ve put in a lot of hard work.”

Obviously, both he and the larger community will continue to benefit from his knowledge and initiative.

"My advice to any new student is an essential part of university is also character development. So build your circle, join clubs, have meaningful interactions, and be prepared to be challenged and step out of your comfort zone."

Name: Karishma Savani

Origin Country: Kenya

Karishma Savani is a proud York Alumni who now works as a Grants Manager at Mitacs. She majored in Psychology with a minor in Business. During her time at York University, she was Vice President of Operations at the Entrepreneurship Development Association, a member of York Ismaili Students Association and UPSA, a Residence Life Don, Peer Mentor and student staff member at York International.

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Undergraduate experience provided abundant life experiences, lessons

By Elaine Smith

Karishma Savani (BSc 2019) is proud of her York University Psychology and Business degree, but she is equally pleased by the lessons learned from her extracurricular activities, internship and work experiences.

“I had so much fun at York,” says Savani, now working as a Grants Manger with Mitacs, a not-for-profit that promotes research and training programs nationwide. “I learned so much during my time at York and grew so much as a person.”

Savani originally hails from the Congo, but she attended high school at a Kenyan boarding school before coming to Canada for her undergraduate degree. Her boarding school experience also laid the groundwork for the wealth of opportunities in which she participated outside the classroom.

“At boarding school, you have no time to sit around and relax,” Savani says. “It’s a go-go-go mentality.”

At York, Savani certainly was a goer and she hit the ground running, becoming a volunteer for York International (YI), the university’s hub for all things international, and a member of residence council.

“I was involved with York International all four years at York,” she says. “I volunteered at events and helped organize them; I was mentored by a peer mentor and became one myself; and I also worked for YI as a front desk assistant, growing the position into one of international student support assistant where I prepared information for staff reports and helped organize events.”

Through its Go Global program, York International also provided Savani with financial support toward an internship in Sri Lanka. Savani spent a month there working for a non-profit organization that offered art and music therapy to school children and adults in retirement homes, tasks designed to relieve depression, among other mental health disabilities and concerns.

“It was the first trip I took solo and I had to meet and live with new people, manage my time and plan my own excursions,” she says. “It was a cultural eye-opener and it also helped me to decide what to focus on in psychology, since I found it was easier for me to work with adults.”

Savani also dug deeper into residence life opportunities, working as a porter at Bethune residence and, in her final year, as a residence don at Pond residence.

“I love working with students,” she says. “As a porter, I got to meet so many new people, while as a don, I had more personal interactions and involvement. I enjoyed the one-on-one exchanges, and we did a lot of events organizing, so I had to get creative.”

And, as if those activities wouldn’t keep her busy enough, Savani was a member of the Entrepreneurs Development Association, a club that helped students learn about entrepreneurship. She began as a volunteer before moving on to operations manager and, in her third year, vice-president of operations. In her fourth year, she informally mentored students, but turned her extra energies to serving as an ambassador for the Faculty of Health, promoting the faculty to high school students at various events. In addition, she had a job in the campus copyright office.

“I made sure I was as involved as I could be,” Savani says.

Undoubtedly, the University benefited from Savani’s efforts as much as she did.