They came as international students, now give back to community with career success
Shubham Aggarwal (Computer Engineering Technician ‘15) and Sunaynna Venkatesh (Advertising and Marketing Communications Management ’15) followed very different paths to Canada as international students, but both were led to Sheridan with an identical goal: to find better opportunities and a flourishing career outside India.
Now, eight years after their graduation, they’re among the countless international students who have successfully built the life they had aspired to through their College credentials. Aggarwal is currently working as the Vice President of Creative POS Ltd., a computer and electronics manufacturing company in Mississauga. Venkatesh has successfully melded her professional background in India with her Sheridan education to take her career forward in a direction of her own choosing. She is currently a Senior Designer at Marks, an SGS&CO company, and over the past 13 years she has done award-winning work for clients such as Amazon, LEGO, Pepsi, Coca Cola, Cadbury, Kraft Canada, Hershey, Nestle, Tim Hortons and IKEA.
Sheridan first step in planting roots in Canada
Aggarwal came to Sheridan not only to pursue his passion for computers, but to also kick start his family’s dream of becoming Canadian citizens.
Within 10 years of first landing in Canada, Aggarwal has been able to immigrate to a new country and culture; find opportunities for his family to join him; create a family of his own; find meaningful employment; and be municipally recognized for his work in the community.
He says the process for achieving these lofty goals started at Sheridan.
“I personally loved it at Sheridan. I got to do many different things and gain experience that I still use to this day,” he says. “One of the most fulfilling things I did was work as a peer mentor. That job gave me the tools to learn how to better communicate with many different people, which was so important because coming to a different country and figuring out how to best communicate is definitely a learning curve.”
In fact, it was as a peer mentor that he would meet his wife Kirti Singla (Computer Programming ’16). “Sheridan has definitely given me a lot to be thankful for,” he says with a good-natured laugh.
Singla encouraged Aggarwal to continue his involvement with Rotaract, a global network that creates opportunities for folks to connect through community service. As a high school student in India, Aggarwal had been a part of the local Rotaract and gained a deeper respect for the act of giving back.
Building connections to give back to the community
“I was always taught that it is our individual responsibility to give back to the community or the environment, because the Earth has given us so much,” Aggarwal explains. “Through my involvement with Rotaract, I’ve been able to see that the way we behave now is how the future is going to be.”
“One of the most fulfilling things I did at Sheridan was work as a peer mentor. That job gave me tools to learn how to better communicate with many different people, which was so important because coming to a different country and figuring out how to best communicate is definitely a learning curve.”– Shubham Aggarwal
After joining the Brampton Rotaract club, he decided to take on the top job in 2021 and serve as their President for the year. During this time, he led many different projects and activities, including raising funds for cancer patients and planting over 200 trees across Brampton and Mississauga. Aggarwal says staying involved with Rotaract also allowed him to build a strong group of friends and connections that otherwise would have been a challenge as a newcomer to Canada.
His positive efforts had a ripple effect on the community around him, and in 2022 he received the Remarkable Citizen Award from Mississauga-Malton MPP Deepak Anand.
“I never thought I’d receive anything like this, especially since I wasn’t yet a Canadian citizen at the time,” he recalls. “So, receiving the Remarkable Citizen was really a great achievement. I was honoured to be included in such an accomplished group of people.”
Support, advice for international students
Aggarwal encourages current students to get involved in what they’re passionate about – both in extracurricular activities and their careers. He says international students often ask him to recommend a program that’d be most effective in beginning a new life in a new place, to which he always responds, “whichever you like best.”
“I find a lot of inspiration in a passage from Bhagavad Gita [an ancient Hindu scripture] that says, ‘You're only entitled to the actions, never to its fruits.’ That's what I feel pushes us forward and takes us all to the next step. You keep doing what you like best because you enjoy the act of it,” Aggarwal explains. “There are no shortcuts.”
Sheridan learning hands-on, practical
Sunaynna Venkatesh had a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the prestigious University of Mumbai before coming to Canada, and it was her father who encouraged her and her sister to find better opportunities abroad. “I came on a holiday to Canada, and it was very welcoming. That made my decision for me, and here I am, 11 years later!” she says.
Venkatesh joined Sheridan’s Advertising and Marketing program to understand the Canadian industry better, and the College experience was everything she had hoped for. “I found that learning at Sheridan was very hands on, as compared to India where it’s all about textbooks and you’re considered a good student if you can memorize something. Over here, for sure there’s a theory aspect to things, but you are also taught how you can take that theoretical knowledge and actually apply it to a real-life situation. And that's what I really appreciated because it makes you learn better and understand things better as you're actually using your knowledge in practical life,” she says.
Overcoming change and embracing new experiences
Venkatesh found her professors at Sheridan to be very encouraging and friendly. But her learning curve encompassed a cultural shift in how she needed to address them by their first name, unlike in India where students have a more formal relationship with their teachers. “I was a little startled to find that I could use a professor’s first name!” she says.
She also found it hard to adjust to making presentations in front of her class. And then there were also the cue cards she depended on during her presentations. “Being from Mumbai, language wasn't an issue, and I was comfortable with English. But we had to do a lot of presentations during the program, which was a new thing for me, and I struggled with that quite a lot initially,” she recalls.
“Looking back on my experience as an international student, I think the big thing is putting yourself out there, to be ready to be uncomfortable, out of your familiar settings. It’s important to feel that discomfort, feel the possible fear that might come from a new experience and just go for it.”– Sunaynna Venkatesh
With time, Venkatesh gained confidence, got better, and let go of cue cards. “Presenting is such a big part of my job now. We have internal presentations, or I present my ideas to my creative director and as I've gotten more senior in my job, I'm often involved with client presentations as well. I know for a fact that I would not be the presenter I am today if it weren’t for Sheridan.”
Extracurriculars help build connections
Both Aggarwal and Venkatesh encourage international students to get involved in extracurriculars to build connections while exploring different experiences. Venkatesh acknowledges that it’s easy to make friends within one’s own community, but it’s equally important to expand your circle to include others. “It can definitely be a bit of a struggle when you're an international student because you didn't grow up here like a lot of the students who perhaps went to the same high school and already know each other. Breaking into those circles was maybe a little bit challenging, but I definitely came out of it with some really good friendships that I still have today.”
Venkatesh participated in the Ontario Colleges Marketing Competition for two years in a row, bringing gold for Sheridan in 2014. “We worked hard for that, and I would say that's hands down my most precious memory of Sheridan.”
Pride in achievement
Following her graduation, Venkatesh worked in the advertising sector but decided to follow her passion for the creative arts and shifted to design. “I've been at my current company for almost four years now and I was at another design studio for four years before this. It's been great and there’s lots of fun work to do. I specialize in branding and packaging design. So, some of the items that you see in the grocery store, like pasta sauce or cereal or chocolate bars, I might have had a hand in designing its packaging. I think it’s really cool that I can go to the grocery store and point at something and say, ‘I designed that.’”
“Looking back on my experience as an international student, I think the big thing is putting yourself out there, to be ready to be uncomfortable, out of your familiar settings. It’s important to feel that discomfort, feel the possible fear that might come from a new experience and just go for it. Can you fail? Yes, absolutely! But at least you can tell yourself that you tried. It’s what makes you grow as an individual.”
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