You’re Not Alone at Centennial College: How an International Student Found Community While Following Her Dreams

By Centennial College Modified on February 12, 2024
Tags : Campus Life | Student POV

Hear how Mona Wazi Ullah, an international student at Centennial, got involved in the college community and made a name for herself.

 You’re Not Alone at Centennial College: How an International Student Found Community While Following Her Dreams

When you’re an international student, travelling overseas can feel be intimidating, and there’s always the worry that you’ll be lonely when you arrive. Mona Wazi Ullah, an international student studying graphic design, ran into that problem when she came to Centennial College to follow her dreams.

Her solution was to get involved in the college community, and she’d end up making an award-winning name for herself in the process. Here’s what getting involved means, and what she gained from it. But first, her important backstory about coming to Canada to prove herself.

One year to follow a dream

"I was born and raised Saudi, but my parents are from Bangladesh," Mona says. "Both countries have this mentality of woman going to be doctors after high school, and then guys will go to engineering. So, there was a pressure from family and everyone in my life. My target goal until 2021 was be to become a doctor." But it turns out there was an important reason why she needed to follow her dream: She was floundering at what she was trying to do instead, as her grades were suffering.

"I thought I wasn't a good student," she says. "But now I realize it wasn’t me being a bad student, it was more like that thing wasn't meant for me." But pursuing her dream was difficult, as she felt pressure to conform. What would ultimately motivate her would be another exterior source of pressure: Global events.

"Later on, the pandemic happened," she explains. "So, I was like, it's now or never, Mona. The fear of not living my actual dream, and just going away from the world scared me. I walked up to my Dad, and I told him, can you give me a year? Can I try this part of life? If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, I will go back to my medical field."

On coming to Canada

That’s where Centennial College came in because Mona needed a program that would run for a single year, to prove herself. Mona initially enrolled in Arts and Design Fundamentals, with the aim of finding her focus. After that, she’d move into our Graphic Design program.

"I never expected the job of graphic design," she admits, "Because everyone who makes a logo thinks they're a graphic designer. But after showing my portfolio in my last semester, I was told I have an eye for graphic design."

"It was kind of nerve-wracking, because I never stayed away from my family," she says about the trip to Canada to start her learning. "But I was already raised with my two cultures, so that was very helpful for accepting the culture over here. But it was kind of difficult having to live alone during the pandemic while studying to graphic design."

"As an international student, it was quite tough," she explains. "But I think getting involved in college, doing jobs, and being busy helped to keep me on my toes. I did miss my family, but I made my family here."

Getting involved

And Mona kept busy. Since coming to Centennial College, she’s been involved with the Centennial College Student Association Incorporated (CCSAI) Street Team, she’s been a Co-Curricular Program Assistant, a Peer Tutor, and a Program Advisory Committee member, among other things.

"I love what I do," she says. "And it's very cliche to say it, but I do love working with students. The struggle I had in my first semester; I didn't want any other student to go through that. So, if I could make their life easier, I would love to do that." "The CCSAI also played an important role," she says. "I used to go to all their events, because I used to be bored at home. And, again, as an international student, I didn't know much about Canada. It was easier to do school stuff than going outside getting tickets for this and that. Because they saw me every day, at one place, I think they thought, if she's coming here for free, if we pay her maybe she will come more."

She even found time to venture off campus, going with her fellow students to Paris for a Short International Program in Fashion & Luxury Management during the summer of 2023."I didn't learn any French, which everyone thought I would," she says, "But I did learn how to speak Gucci, Prada, and Chanel. And we learned about business and freelancing, which also comes into play when being a graphic designer. If I don't get a corporate job after I graduate, how do I feed myself? Through freelancing!"

Why she helps

"My dad had a thing back home," Mona explains. "Helping somebody is not always about money. It's good for you. People think I'm earning a lot, but I’m not, and my friends have said, you're just volunteering, you can do an outside job. But they don't know that the connections I'm making are part of a bigger picture. Today's struggle makes tomorrow's success."

"I aspire to become a creative director," she says about her future, "and my active involvement in the college community is proving invaluable for my future career."

"Spending time working with fellow students has taught me patience," she says as an example of the skills she’s picking up. "Especially when dealing with cases where someone might not excel in certain areas. Simply engaging in conversation has significantly boosted my confidence."

"If I can handle situations here, then I can tackle different challenges in my future," she continues. "This confidence means less anxiety when facing interviews or trying out new experiences. Moreover, my participation in the college community has honed my leadership skills. It serves as a training to ground within this smaller community, preparing me for a larger professional community."

Tomorrow’s success

Mona would be recognized for her contributions to the College community as well, picking up the Award of Outstanding Returning Engaged Student for the academic year 2022-2023 and the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2021.

"I didn't know I did so much stuff that year," she says. "And I balanced my grades up, too."

"It was very special for me winning that award," she adds. "My parents stayed awake till 2 a.m. [Saudi time] just to watch and be present."

"Embrace the challenges ahead," she says as advice, looking back on where she’s been. "When you start, you might be a background character, but aim to leave a lasting impression by the time you graduate. Processes happen in small steps, and it's natural to stumble along the way. Failure will occur. It's not like I haven't seen failure in my life, but it's okay. You will have good times, and there will be moments when giving up seems tempting, however maintain belief in yourself, even if you have doubt."

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