Friday, December 25, 2009

With All The Doors Open to Him, Vishal Chooses College

"My parents put me in boarding school to make me more outgoing and creative," recalls international student Vishal Member. "We learned in English to ensure we had a global experience."

He attended New Era High School in Panchgani, India, where he lived and studied until the end of grade 10. Vishal completed grades 11 and 12 back home in Surat, achieving the second-highest grade point average in the province.

Given his excellent education, it would not be a stretch to say Vishal could look forward to being warmly received by any university anywhere in the world.

So why would he choose to go to Centennial College in Canada?

"I picked Canada as my destination because it has a stable economy and it has a reputation for welcoming immigrants," Vishal smiles. "And I chose Centennial because I liked the fact it was Ontario’s first community college, which suggests to me it is an established and successful learning institution."

Vishal had the means to go to any university he wanted, but decided to pursue a college education.

"University is more theoretical. I wanted the benefits of practical knowledge – that's what is important to me, the application of knowledge," he says.

Vishal arrived in Toronto in 2006 and immediately plunged into his studies at Centennial. He had no relatives in Canada; instead, he came with two friends and rented an apartment in the city together.

Vishal started in the three-year Business Administration program, but he stumbled at first. Unacquainted with the Canadian teaching style, his marks suffered. He also had to overcome his culture shock.

"Despite the fact there are many South Asians in Canada, international students undergo some culture shock when they come here, no question," he says.

Harking back to his boarding-school days, Vishal knew he needed to get involved in the student government, and began applying himself to both his homework and to the rigours of college politics. He campaigned hard and won the position of campus vice-president.

"Working for the Centennial College Student Association gives me some experience I can apply in the business world," Vishal says. "International students see me as an example of what you can do in this country."

Sitting on the Student Association board introduced Vishal to a whole new world of committee work, including being involved in the college's management hiring committees, as well as listening to students’ concerns and finding solutions.

Vishal was surprised by the responsibilities the student government has taken on, including a $4-million annual budget, managing the money it collects in student fees to spend on campus recreation and special events.

"The college relies on the Student Association to make student life better on campus. So we offer many services and special events for them," he explains. “We financed, built and operate the Progress Campus Student Centre, and now we’re in charge of the $27-million Athletic and Wellness Centre construction."

The work apparently agreed with Vishal and his successes became evident to everyone. When the position of Student Association President came up for election, he applied himself and won. Now he sits at the head table – the college's Board of Governors – where he gets to participate in top-drawer decisions of the college.

"It's taken me to the next step. I can provide better representation of our students, and I can tell you college administrators take my ideas very seriously," he says. His governance work complements the real-world lessons he's acquiring in his classes.

"The teachers here are great, and the learning experience in the classroom has been very useful," he says. "Back home, the teaching approach was very theoretical; it focused on what the textbooks say. Here, it's changing according to the economy. Everyday there's something new to learn."

Vishal graduated last June with a grade point average of 3.56. As Student Association President, he had the honour of addressing each of the graduating classes. When it came time to cross the convocation stage himself, the students erupted in applause.

"My grandparents traveled from India to witness my convocation. They saw first-hand how I lived and how I am thought of at the college." If there were any doubts about the value of a college education on the part of his parents and grandparents, they were erased that day.

Today Vishal is taking some accounting courses at Centennial while he serves as Student Association President. He'll be eligible for permanent residency in six months, and he's already committed to making Canada his home base as he begins his entrepreneurial venture, which he says will take him around the world.

Does he have any regrets about coming to Centennial College to learn his business skills, rather than attending a world-class university?

"None. I've had a very favourable experience coming here," Vishal smiles. "I highly recommend it!"

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