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Student award winners find the value in volunteering

Jordan D’Souza, Adela Zyfi receive Canadian Bureau for International Education 2016 Excellence Awards
By: Will Sloan
November 18, 2016

Fourth-year student Jordan D’Souza volunteers with the Ryerson WUSC Committee and serves as Ryerson Athletics RAVE co-ordinator. Photo by Clifton Li.

Two Ryerson students are being recognized at Canadian Bureau for International Education’s external,2016 Excellence Awards for their efforts to make the campus a more welcoming place.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education is also honouring Ryerson’s Glocal Links program, which helps international students connect with new Canadian friends on- and off-campus. The program, run by International Student Support, won the award for Outstanding International Education Program.

Fourth-year business management student Jordan D’Souza won the New World Award for Student Leadership in International Education. He has spent his time at Ryerson watching international students transition into a new life, and connecting students to volunteering opportunities. He currently serves as chair of the Ryerson external,WUSC Committee, where he led the organization of the first annual Refugee Summit. He also serves as co-ordinator for Ryerson Athletics’ external,RAVE, an initiative that connects student-athletes to meaningful volunteer opportunities.

For D’Souza, one of the most rewarding aspects of working with the WUSC scholars is being able to see Canada through their eyes. “I’ve taken a couple of our WUSC scholars camping in the north, and these are experiences they don’t get in Toronto and definitely wouldn’t get back at home,” he said. “To be able to share those first-time experiences on holidays doing outdoorsy activities—that is very memorable to me. It’s their first time doing it, and I get to be part of it.”

The Elizabeth Paterson Award for Student Leadership in International Education went to Adela Zyfi (third year biomedical science), who spearheaded the Speak Your Language project through International Student Support. Through a series of talks, the program seeks to create a safe space for international students to discuss and learn about mental health issues. In addition to Speak Your Language, Zyfi helped establish the external,ISS Talk Series, which promotes mental wellness through discussions on academic, social, and personal life. She has also worked as an International Student Support peer mentor.

“Mental health is considered so differently in different countries, and there are a lot of stigmas around it,” said Zyfi. “I’ve learned so much about it coming from different perspectives. But at the same time, sitting in a room with 20 people from completely different backgrounds, it’s being able to realize that at the end of the day, we all go through the same things together.”

Born and raised in Albania, Zyfi moved to Toronto in 2013, where she finished her last year of high school. The transition was not easy. “I didn’t have any support, and I was put in situations that as a 17-year-old child I didn’t know how to deal with. That really affected my mental health: I wasn’t safe, I didn’t have anyone to help me.” Moving on to university, “I wanted to have a community and a support system, but I was also conscious that a lot of other students probably felt the same way I did, and had all these issues and didn’t have anyone to talk to about.”

When asked for advice for new students feeling pressure, Zyfi said, “When we come here, there could be many factors that could affect us not feeling well. It could be financial factors, it could be transitional struggles, it could be social, it could be health. There isn’t a specific answer, but it’s about finding a supportive community to help you, and knowing there are services and people that can help.”

What is the value of volunteering? According to Jordan D’Souza, “The hardest part about volunteering is jumping in. But once you do it, you’re hooked—you’ll never stop doing it. You see the immediate impacts you have on the people you’re helping, and there’s a certain amount of humanity to it. You go home to bed at night and you’re satisfied. You know you left an imprint on the world in your day.”

Zyfi added, “I realize that throughout the year of helping students, I had helped myself so much. I hadn’t realized that it was a two-way learning experience.”

Awards were presented at a ceremony during the Canadian Bureau of International Education’s annual conference in Ottawa this week.

For more information on International Student Support, go here.