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‘Goals and ambitions’

International student reflections: Memorial alumnus thriving in Newfoundland and Labrador

Part of a special feature highlighting the student voice, student experience and the range of student supports and opportunities available at Memorial.


By Susan White

A Memorial alumnus who planned for two years in St. John’s to complete a business degree is marking his 10th year in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Kevin Zhao joined Memorial in 2009 as part of a 2+2 degree partnership between the Faculty of Business Administration and Renmin University of China in Beijing.

He graduated with a bachelor of business administration (BBA) degree in 2011. He’s spent the past eight years building a life in his chosen home.

Originally from Taian in Shandong province, Mr. Zhao found this province to be significantly different than his hometown.

“Fresh air, sea breeze and clear blue skies were only some of the things that I loved about the change, as well as the distinctive friendly people,” he said.

‘Plenty of opportunities’

Mr. Zhao works as a banking centre leader at a CIBC branch in Clarenville, N.L. Until recently, he managed a large portfolio as a business banking financial advisor at CIBC in St. John’s.

The banking industry is a far cry from Mr. Zhao’s original dream to become a police officer in China. However, troubles with his eyesight prevented him from pursuing that path, so an uncle began talking to him about expanding his worldview. He made the leap to Canada and found that the life as an international student is “very challenging.”

Different teaching styles, language barriers and new accents – even something as simple as seeking help from a professor was different. In China, Mr. Zhao says, students simply drop by a professor’s office with questions or seeking help.

“At Memorial, you should schedule an appointment and give the professor a heads up before you show up.”

Three lessons from Memorial

Mr. Zhao says he learned three important lessons at Memorial that continue to help him in his career.

“First is time management. If you want to be efficient, manage your time properly. Second is self-motivation. You have to be self-motivated if you want to succeed, which is good because it pushes you to be better. Third is review and repetition. Review what you learned from class and repeat it until it becomes your own knowledge.”

Mr. Zhao says he has found many opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

He returned to Beijing for six months following graduation, but came back to St. John’s and began working, first as a cashier at Canadian Tire and then as a teller at CIBC. There, he soon earned his first promotion to financial services representative.

“The lifestyle in Newfoundland is something I learned from the university.” — Kevin Zhao

At the end of 2014, his work visa expired, and he once again returned to China. After spending so much time in the smaller and quieter St. John’s, he found the transition difficult.

“[In] Beijing, life is busy,” he said. “[I thought] I’m losing myself and I couldn’t focus. Inside I was falling apart. The lifestyle in Newfoundland is something I learned from the university. If I had never come to Canada, I wouldn’t know the difference.”

In 2016 Mr. Zhao was able to return to Canada and was granted permanent residency. He again joined CIBC, rising quickly through the ranks to his current role in Clarenville.

In between, he earned his chartered professional accountant designation and became a certified financial planner. He’s currently working his way through the chartered financial analyst designation.

Mr. Zhao is also involved in a local company with several Memorial students and alumni whom he met through volunteer work. The company, Newfoundland and Labrador Chinese Canadian Service Group, aims to help new international students and immigrants get settled in St. John’s by providing logistical support, networking and volunteer opportunities.

Advice for international students

Volunteering, he says, is something all international students should do.

“Make connections, understand workforce and employee procedures, learn about decision-making . . . Volunteer work sometimes can help people to build connections, [which makes] it easier for them to adapt to life here and find a job because it shows your ability to prove value to an organization.”

“You have to express your ideas and allow people to know the real you.” — Kevin Zhao

Practising oral English skills is also a must, he says. No matter where you end up working, you’ll need to communicate with your manager, colleagues and your clients, he says.

“You have to express your ideas and allow people to know the real you. Before you can make a difference, you need to let people understand you, and the first step is to tell them your ideas.”

Mr. Zhao hopes to return to Memorial one day and share his experiences with a new generation of Memorial students.

“Respect for other people, that’s what I learned from my academic and professional career in Newfoundland, from Memorial University, from CIBC, also from my friends [and] professors.”

He plans to complete a PhD in finance at New York University after receiving his chartered financial analyst designation, and then become a professor at his alma mater.

“My dream is to be a professor and share my knowledge, experience and passion to other people. Hopefully one day, I can help young students to achieve their goals and ambitions.”


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