Alumni Newsletter, Edition No. 4

This newsletter is about “Breaking Barriers.” It demonstrates a few of the different ways in which the International Scholarships Program (ISP) of Global Affairs Canada promotes equality of opportunity and helps scholars not only to overcome limitations and/or obstacles, but to thrive in their careers. The newsletter showcases the experience of scholarship recipients who have felt a significant positive impact on their personal and professional lives as a result of taking part in one of ISP’s many programs. Their experience illustrates that with a little courage, resilience, hard work, and hopefully a little help from the Canadian way, individuals can rise above any challenge. We were inspired by their stories; we hope that you will be as well.

Emerging Leaders in the Americas

The Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) is a scholarship program that provides students from Latin America and the Caribbean with exchange opportunities to undertake short-term study or research in Canada. The program was created to help develop the next generation of young leaders in our continent. With more than 4,000 scholarships funded since its creation in 2009, ELAP is part of Canada’s contribution to breaking the barriers to human rights, environmental protection, democratic values and accountable governance in the Americas.

With ELAP’s 10th anniversary fast approaching, we are preparing a series of articles showcasing different aspects of the program. In this edition two recent alumni share with us the positive impact of ELAP in their lives. If you have a similar experience that you want to share with other members of the ELAP community, please send us your story.

Testimonial of Elizabeth Bullock, ELAP participant

A native of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Elizabeth Bullock spent four months at the University of Alberta complementing her Master’s research in Geophysics and Geothermal Energy from the University of The West Indies.

Elizabeth Bullock “ELAP has contributed to shaping a clearer vision of my research and career goals as well as defining a greater purpose for my life. Not only was I provided with an exceptional learning atmosphere, but the valued natural landscape, culturally diverse environment and overall quality of life was absolutely refreshing.

The exchange gave me the opportunity to collaborate with experts, learn new skills and have access to research facilities not readily available at my home institution. However, my most treasured lesson was the importance of balance. I learned that, in order for us to be happy and centered, we need to take breaks from the roller-coaster ride of work and career, slow down, and enjoy some extra-curricular activities every so often.

Despite the cold weather, the intercultural experience was warm, friendly and intriguing. I made friends from many countries. A simple bus ride was a remarkable experience–as I listened to conversations in a number of different languages.

My exchange was unforgettable. I am truly grateful for the generosity of the Canadian government in providing these opportunities. I certainly encourage students to participate. ELAP will change your life!”

Testimonial of Javier-Fuentes-Bernal, ELAP participant

In 2016, Javier Fuentes-Bernal left Colombia to further his undergraduate studies at Université de Montréal. His experience was so fruitful that he decided to return. He currently works as anthropology field trainer at UdeM and as research officer for the Centre of Expertise on the Wellbeing and Physical Health of Refugees and Asylum Seekers at CIUSSS Centre-Ouest-de-l’île-de-Montréal.

Javier Fuentes-Bernal“ELAP has opened many doors for me in academia and the research community in Canada. It provided me with opportunities to deepen my studies in social anthropology, join various research projects on migrant health (a theme very close to my heart), and discover new career avenues.

Being an ELAP alumnus allowed me to deepen my research on the psychosocial and clinical attention of migrants aiming at their social integration and coexistence of different cultures. It also gave me the visibility needed to develop a wide professional network which, in turn, allowed me to pursue a career in an environment where I had no previous contacts.

Right away, Canada made me feel safe and welcomed. Thanks to the openness of its people, I was easily incorporated into the rhythm of life in Canadian and Quebec society. The landscapes of the region and the linguistic diversity of Montreal are very rewarding aspects that I appreciate enormously. I have always made a point to take an active part in the activities of our multicultural tapestry.

Now that I am working in Canada, I feel that it is my duty to give back to this community that has received me so well. As such, I have geared my career towards the effort of helping improve regional programs for vulnerable migrant populations in Quebec.”/p>

Crossing a gulf

Annamaris Olmo-VelazquezMeet Annamaris Olmo-Velazquez, a second-year Ph.D. student of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at the University of Calgary. Anna is yet another of the many emerging leaders of the Americas revealed by ELAP. Member of the 2015-2016 cohort, she came to Canada to undertake research for her Master’s degree in Mathematical Modelling Applied to Engineering, Fluid Mechanics and Biomechanics from the Instituto Superior Politécnico José Antonio Echeverría in Cuba.

After finishing her degree in her home country, Anna was invited to pursue a doctoral program at UCalgary. She considers it one of the best decisions of her career. “The resources and the structure of the labs, not to mention the expertise of everyone at the university, allowed me to expand my research in ways that I would never have been able to do in Cuba,” she says.

Anna’s work focuses on improving safety in the detonation process of hydrogen molecules. There is a worldwide effort to find new environmentally-friendly substitutes to fossil fuels. Hydrogen is the cleanest possible contender, since the ignition of its molecules produces nothing but water vapor. However, before we can start building hydrogen stations for our cars, scientists still need to ensure that combustion can be done in a safe way. Anna uses mathematical simulations to predict the outcomes of hydrogen detonation and, thus, help improve the safety of the process.

Anna’s contribution goes beyond her professional activities, since moving to Calgary, she has been involved in several university boards and student groups, including serving as President of the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Students Association. Her hard work has paid off: among the many awards and scholarships that Anna has received so far, the most prestigious was the 2017 Izaak Walton Killam Pre-Doctoral Scholarship, which recognizes students for their outstanding research and leadership.

The story of Annamaris Olmo-Velazquez illustrates the positive outcomes generated by the deeply Canadian values of fairness, inclusivity and equality of opportunity. It was these values – in addition to Anna’s hard work, one could assume that these values assisted an accomplished woman from Latin America to work at the cutting edge of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), a field that until very recently had a significant underrepresentation of women.

Note: It is to foster the emergence of more women like Annamaris Olmo-Velazquez, not only in Canada but across the world, that Global Affairs Canada has launched the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).

FIAP is based on the principle that promoting equality as well as the empowerment of women and girls is the most effective approach to producing strong economic growth and achieving the eradication of extreme poverty. Research demonstrates that women are powerful agents of change that can completely transform their households, their societies, and their economies. Inclusive growth, development, and sustainable peace, therefore, can only be achieved within an environment of gender equality.

Bridging walls

The Canada-China Scholars' Exchange Program (CCSEP) provides scholarships for scholars and professionals to undertake studies, research, and language training in either Canada or China. This is an important year for Sino-Canadian relations: not only has 2018 been deemed the Canada-China Year of Tourism by the Government of Canada; but it also marks the 45th anniversary of CCSEP. For that reason, the Embassy of China is organizing several events to promote CCSEP and Canada-China relations.

Here are some quick facts about CCSEP1:

  • 64% of the Canadian alumni work in the fields of Social Sciences, Management and Humanities; 22% in Arts and Architecture; and 14% in Natural Sciences, Health Sciences and Engineering.
  • 94% of the Canadian alumni claim that CCSEP has helped advance their careers.
  • Over 73% of Canadian alumni continued their language studies after returning to Canada.
  • Around 64% of Canadian alumni have increased their professional ties with China after the program. 53% of them have facilitated professional or business dealings with China.

Remembering the Spring

There is an ancient Chinese proverb which goes: “when you drink the water, remember the spring.” In this 45th anniversary of the Canada-China Scholars' Exchange Program, we want to remember and honour the “spring” of educational relations between the two countries. We contacted two CCSEP alumni, one Chinese and one Canadian, to share their experiences visiting Canada and China.

Interview with Yang Gong, CCSEP Alumni

Yan GongProud to call herself a Canadianist, Yan Gong is currently an associate professor at the School of English and International Studies of the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU). She has taken part in two CCSEP exchanges. During her first visit, between 1997 and 1998, she furthered her knowledge of Canada at the Canadian Studies Centre of Carleton University. In 2015, she was invited to conduct research in Chinese studies in Canada at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada.

Prof. Gong was deeply impacted by her CCSEP experience. The academic exchange has not only completely shifted her research focus, but also influenced her whole career path. She has published widely on Canadian issues, both in Canada and China. One of her university textbooks An Introduction to Major English-Speaking Societies and Their Cultures, currently on its 4th edition, has been widely read in China, and has won several Chinese national awards. In 2006, she helped establish BFSU’s Canadian Studies Centre, where she served as Director for nine years.

Why did you choose to undertake your studies in Canada?

It was a coincidence. My original field of research was American Studies but I was also curious about its neighbour to the north, so when I heard about CCSEP, I took the chance. After I came back to China, I started focusing more on the study of Canada and eventually initiated Canadian Studies program and center in our institution. When I applied for CCSEP for the second time, I was the director of Canadian Studies Centre in my institution which has a MA program on Canadian Studies.

What did you take from your CCSEP experience?

My first-time in Canada opened a new window for me, both personally and professionally. I started to understand Canada more extensively and in depth and became more interested in researching the country. After coming back to China, I was eager to apply what I had gained to my teaching and research. I became a specialist on Canadian issues, created courses with Canadian content and contributed chapters to books. Between 2014 and 2016, I was elected Vice-President of the Association for Canadian Studies in China.

CCSEP inspired me to establish BFSU’s very own Canadian Studies Centre in 2006, followed by the creation of a graduate program focused on Canadian studies in 2007. The MA program was the first of its kind in Chinese universities. Our Centre quickly developed into one of the most active Canadian Studies institutions in my country. In 2011, the Chinese Ministry of Education granted us the status of National Canadian Studies Research Base, an honour shared by only one other institution in China.

What is your current relationship with Canada?

I maintain a close relationship with Canada in terms of academic research as well as people-to-people contact. We invite Canadian scholars to give lectures or short courses in our institution and cooperate on research projects. We’re also exploring the possibility of more exchange programs between BFSU and Canadian institutions.

What would you say to someone who is considering joining CCSEP?

CCSEP is the best academic exchange program for Canadianists in China. It has a clear mandate and a fair and competitive selection mechanism. For the past 45 years, it has created opportunities for academic exchanges and collaborations, and enhanced mutual understanding between our two peoples. Among the alumni, you’ll find prominent public figures from both countries. I am proud to be part of the CCSEP community. So will you!

Interview with Paul Brennan, CCSEP alumni

Paul Brennan is a member of CCSEP’s first cohort (1973-1974). After the exchange program ended, he decided to return and pursue a Master’s in Modern Chinese History at Beijing University. The experiences in China changed the course of Paul’s life. He has dedicated his career to promoting cross cultural exchanges in Canada and abroad. Paul is currently the co-founder of a consultancy specialized, among many things, in educational development and internationalization. He also volunteers as leadership development instructor at UNESCO’s International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training.

Why did you decide to go specifically to China?

My undergrad (a B.A. in Asian and African History at Concordia University) helped me realize how little I knew about different world cultures. I enrolled in a Master’s Degree in East Asian Studies at McGill University under the leadership of Prof. Paul Lin, a great Chinese-Canadian whose work straddled the line between the two countries. When Prof. Lin organized a 30-day study tour of China, I jumped at the opportunity. Upon my return, China was already part of my life. When I first heard about CCSEP, I had no doubts that I wanted to join.

What did you expect to see in China and what were your impressions when you got there?

I was expecting culture shock, and that’s exactly what I got. Life in China was like exploring the unknown: the smells, the foods, the heat and humidity… it was a true assault on the senses. There was suspicion at first. For example, the Beijing Languages Institute did not want us mingling with the local students. We were encouraged to keep to ourselves. We had a foreigners-only dormitory and cafeteria. There were 500 of us from about 50 different countries in that first year. After much complaining, we finally managed to have Chinese roommates and to share meals in one cafeteria. That was when reality hit us: China was much poorer than Canada at that time. Witnessing a way of life so different from ours was both shocking and fascinating. From that moment on, I made a point of seeking out more opportunities to challenge my world views. The Institute and the University organized these one-month learning and work stints through which I had the chance to live in communes, harvest wheat with peasants, eat with them and sleep in their homes. I even worked at a locomotive repair factory, where I met some retired workers who had taken part in the historic 1927 national railway workers’ strike in China; interviewing them eventually led to my Master’s research paper.

How was your professional and personal life influenced by your experience in China?

My life has been deeply connected to China. Throughout my professional life I have worked to promote Sino-Canadian exchanges among individuals, educational institutions, businesses and governments. Even today in my “semi-retirement,” I am still helping Canadian institutions establish sustainable partnerships with China. I have also been influenced on a personal level. China is the birthplace of a historical, rich and solid culture that has outlasted almost all other civilizations in the world; the wisdom there is virtually unmatched. Experiencing that wisdom has deeply enriched my life.

What would you say to someone who is considering joining CCSEP?

Go do it! As an emerging global superpower, China provides invaluable opportunities for people looking to expand themselves, their career, and their education. Moreover, this type of experience prepares people to operate in global networks that can provide collective solutions to global challenges. What other reason do you need? Finally, I want to stress that the language is really not that difficult. Trust me on this; with just a little bit of effort anyone can learn to speak Chinese.

Inspiring academic and industry events

Take a look at two of many upcoming academic/industry events which focus on inclusivity and the overcoming of barriers:

Financing change

Do you need help promoting change? See below for some possible funding opportunities for students as well as projects related to the idea of overcoming barriers.

Funding opportunities from Canadian sources

  • Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship: Open to both Canadian and international PhD students studying at Canadian universities.
  • Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships: Funding for both Canadian and international postdoctoral applicants who will positively contribute to Canada's economic, social and research-based growth.
  • Mitacs Globalink Research Award: Funding for both Canadian and international undergraduate and graduate students in Canada to conduct research projects at universities overseas.
  • Mitacs Elevate: Funding for both Canadian and international postdoctoral fellows for professional and leadership development training and a long-term research project with a partner organization.
  • Academics Without Borders: Supports endeavours that foster the skills and expertise needed for areas such as health care, education, infrastructure and business.

Funding opportunities from international sources

  • Global Innovation Fund: Funding for social and business projects focused on the developing world.
  • Prince Bernhard Nature Fund: Funding for initiatives that aim to help save critically endangered flora and fauna in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Contact us

The Government of Canada Scholars’ Alumni Association (GCSAA) would be pleased to hear from you and share your success stories with others in our newsletter. Do not hesitate to contact us for any questions.

September 2018


1Global Affairs Canada, “Study of Canadian Alumni of the Canada China Scholars Exchange Program (CCSEP)