Personal and Professional Leadership Journeys: Five Students Share Their Experiences

Five international students from Ryerson Student Life draw connections between their personal, work, and leadership journeys to the five Ryerson Student Affairs pillars Рmental well-being, community, learning, personal and professional development Рand how it transformed their sense of self. Adapted from a presentation delivered at the Ryerson Student Affairs Professional Development conference.

As students, we¬†come from diverse, cultural backgrounds that hold many stories. In particular, international students are faced with many challenges when they cross cultural boundaries and embark on the adventure of relocating, living, studying and working. Many demands and expectations are placed on us while adjusting to a¬†new life. Sometimes we¬†may feel that like we are¬†expected to change all our familiar ways of doing things in order to fit into the new culture or environment. Sometimes we¬†may feel like we¬†have lost¬†our¬†personal identity ‚Äď our¬†sense of who we¬†are as individuals and as members of a¬†community.


by Ciro Fernando Bustillo, PhD Candidate in Environmental Applied Science and Management from Colombia

‚ÄúLearning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.‚ÄĚ

Learning is always present in your life, and it is what has always motivated me to know more and discover new things. At a very young age, the way I perceived the world around me was shaped by a book ‚ÄúDiscourse on the Method‚ÄĚ by Rene Descartes. This book sparked curiosity in me and made me aware of the infinity of opportunities that life carries.

Learning then became a never ending journey and brought me down my career path. Following, I found myself eager to experience what life is like in a different country, learning a new language, and adapting to another culture. Therefore, I decided to come to Canada, known for its cold winter, but also because of the water initiatives.

At Ryerson, I was surrounded by all the tools, support, and services offered by Student Affairs. Student Learning Support, for example, helps you grow and succeed in whatever your pathway is. Now, I have found myself in teaching in Occupational and Public Health and sparking the same curiosity in others by sharing my knowledge and my passion for learning. Now is my time to ask, what will you learn next?


by Daniel Duke, 3rd year in Electrical Engineering from Nigeria


To be yourself is what community means to me. To be heard, and to be welcome. Student Life welcomed me, they heard me. They made me feel accepted and then supported me for who I am.

It is very difficult to express yourself the way you want to when you move to a new country, new environment, and new community. For example, I am able to express myself freely through music. As a saxophonist, you can put emotions into beautiful music and I am very very grateful for these opportunities.

I would like to challenge you all. Have you made someone feel accepted in your community today?

Finally, as we move forward in life, we either leave a positive or negative impact on people we come across. What impact do you want to leave on your community?

Mental Well-being

by Adela Zyfi, 2nd year in Biomedical Science from Albania

Look around. You’re surrounded by people. We all have lives, thoughts, we learn, work, think, laugh, cry and so much more. We’re all human. You know another thing we all have in common? We all have mental health.

I’m a daughter. A friend. A partner. A student. A colleague. And every one of those labels affects my mental well-being. Some days it‚Äôs good. Some days it’s not so good. I still struggle with it. And that’s okay. I think throughout my personal journey, being aware of my mental health and well-being has helped me move forward. It has empowered me and helped me fulfill my full potential, and pushes me every day. It has made me confident, helped me connect with others, and make a positive impact. I strive to wake up every day and consciously think about my well-being. I talk about it. I share it. I embrace it. And I’m proud of it. At the beginning of my journey, I never intended to accept my mental health the way I have, but I did. And I like it. I’m happy with where I stand.

So let me ask you a few questions before I conclude. Are you aware of your mental health? Have you embraced it? If not, I ask you to take a moment out of each day to think about your well-being. I can assure you, you will feel empowered.

Personal Development

by Bao (Tara) Luu, 3rd year Industrial Engineering from Vietnam

As an international student, I had very high expectations of myself. I wanted have good marks, a good job and get recognized by my peers and colleagues. All those things made me feel stresses and I had so many negative thoughts.

When I started working at Ryerson International Student Support, the position required me to deal with problems related to emotions and feelings, not just with other people but including myself. Day after day of reflecting on myself, I realized I was so busy focusing on my academic achievement, my professional achievement, my vision of success that I forgot the most important thing. I forgot myself.

Everything starts from you. If you want to be a good leader, you have to be able to lead yourself. If you want to be respected, you have to be able to value yourself. If you want to be loved, love yourself first.

In the end, your mind, your thinking, you knowledge, those are all yours to keep. So if you can’t trust yourself, if you think you can’t trust your ability, who will?

Everything starts from you, and I want you to invest in yourself, believe in your potential. Ask yourself, what can you do to yourself today to help yourself five years later.

Professional Development

Jingzhi Deng, 2nd year in Retail Management from China and Canada

Professional development, I started to rethink and try to define my own opinion of professional development. That’s when I realized my view has changed.

Ever since I took my first business course in high school, I tell myself everyday I want to be a successful business woman when I grow up. I want to be Donna in Suits! I want to be a badass business women leading a team or a company just like Jessica Pearson. That’s when I decided to start attending workshops conferences, business related competitions, because I believe those activities will help me develop professional skills and prepare for the real world.

In the past year, my journey at Ryerson with Student Life has changed my perspective. I no longer think that attending conferences and workshops is the only way to gain professional skills.

I realized that professional development is not only about attending conferences and building a strong academic background. It’s¬†also¬†about how you present yourself in front of other people; it’s about how to utilize your free time by going on a coffee date so you could build strong communication skills, and develop emotional intelligence skills. It’s also about viewing mistakes as new learning opportunities, watching and learning from your peers, your supervisors, and finding your true self while exploring options.

Professional development is a continuous process, all of us are still learning and will continue to rethink and redefine our own definition of professional development. Without truly understanding what you want, and your actions, you may never develop the skills you will need.

Each of us believes in something different,  find your own definition and start realizing what you want to bring! So… how do you define your own professional development?


The Ryerson Student Affairs five pillars focus on community, personal and professional development, mental well-being, and learning, encouraging us to think of ourselves as whole beings as we navigate the various aspects of what it means to be a student at Ryerson.