Ahnaf Rahman is originally from Bangladesh but moved to Malaysia when he was only nine. Despite all the obstacles his family faced (including business losses due to COVID-19), they never stopped prioritising Rahman and his siblings’ futures.
This is why, when he won a Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship to study business at the University of Toronto, he felt great relief. He was able to break the news to his parents to not worry about his uni finances.
“I feel extremely humbled and honoured to receive this unparalleled opportunity at the University of Toronto, which I could not have achieved without my most profound source of inspiration: my parents,” he states.
On top of that, he also took the initiative to make use of technology and designed a website helping students in Malaysia connect with NGOs for meaningful youth volunteering opportunities. This put him on track to further develop his skills in management and IT under a co-op programme.
Below we talk to this University of Toronto scholar on his interest in business, his scholarship application, and what he’s most looking forward to doing in Canada.
What’s the story behind your interest in business?
Ever since I was a child, the greatest value my parents instilled in me was to be helpful to others. This attracted me towards pursuing a business degree as I feel I can best serve my community by understanding how to best manage the resources around me.
It offers me a lot of flexibility in regards to my future career path as well. I was also fortunate to see my father begin his own garments factory in Bangladesh where his entrepreneurial spirit inspired me.
What then made you apply for the Pearson International Scholarship for the University of Toronto?
Despite being extremely competitive, the scholarships in Canada are highly rewarding in nature. I wanted to see how I might stack against my peers around the world.
I received the Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship at the University of Toronto which is awarded to only 37 international students annually.
To apply, you need to be nominated by the school and each school can only choose one student a year. This meant I was competing with the best of the best.
Then I had to fill in an application form with four essay questions and reflect upon my past experiences. Then I had to write about how I plan to leverage these to shape my future.
What does your scholarship cover and how does it help?
It covers all my tuition, book, and incidental fees along with full residence support for four years. I will also get a stipend each semester which I can use for my allowance.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for my family since the pandemic hasn’t been very kind to their business. It’s certainly a huge relief for them and we feel blessed to have received such an opportunity.
Tell us the hardest and easiest part of the application.
An interesting essay question was where I had to write a recommendation letter for myself in the third person. It was challenging having to balance selling myself as a worthy candidate while appearing humble at the same time.
I also had to write an 800-word essay about a significant extracurricular experience from my high school days. Here, I shared my initiative (FairCare) about a youth volunteering experience.
All the essay questions were relatively challenging, so I would say the easiest part was to get nominated from my high school in Malaysia — Fairview International School.
Do you have any advice for prospective applicants on how to manage their finances?
I’m delighted to see my generation becoming knowledgeable about financial literacy these days. However, applying this is a challenge of its own.
I try and use a spreadsheet to track my daily expenses and categorise them accordingly. Each week, I reflect upon them and think about how I can spend smarter in the near future.
This is a habit I only started recently but it’s done wonders for me. I would highly recommend this to prospective applicants as they enter one of the most exciting phases of their lives.
What advice do you have for other future applicants for the scholarship you won?
A common misconception about winning a full-ride scholarship is that you have to devote your entire time to a plethora of different extracurricular activities. I would argue that unis find it more appealing when you choose one or two of these and fully commit to them.
The two main things they look for is how you solve problems in your communities and how you leverage your own skills in doing so. Any activity that merges these things can be a gamechanger.
What advice do you have for international students looking to study in Canada?
Migrating to Canada might seem daunting but it’s extremely worth it when considering future prospects. Unfortunately, the uni application is not streamlined such as places like the US and the UK.
This means each uni has its own admission procedure. I would urge prospective students to start researching early about deadlines — it can go a long way to reducing the burden.
Besides your studies at the University of Toronto, what are you most looking forward to doing in Canada?
I’m looking forward to exploring the scenery and wildlife in Canada. I’m deeply passionate about landscape and photography.
Canada is home to some of the prettiest spots in the world. I’m extremely excited to discover as many of these places as possible.
What do you think you’ll miss from home and how do you plan to substitute it?
I will miss my mother’s cooking the most. I don’t think there’s a better cook in the world and I’m obsessed with her food. I’m trying to learn her recipes before I leave so whenever I will miss her there, I can indulge in cooking her food.
What can you tell us about your hometown, Dhaka?
Dhaka in Bangladesh is truly a magnificent place. Even though I’ve spent years in Kuala Lumpur, Dhaka will remain special to me. Nobody will ever leave the country without complimenting the food options that are available.
Lastly, share three fun facts about yourself with us!
I have two siblings whom I’m very close to as we’re a tight-knit family who looks out for each other all the time.
I’m a massive foodie and I love trying new things. Although I’m slightly concerned about the Halal food options in Toronto, I will nevertheless make the most out of it.
I’m a huge fan of binging TV shows and movies and my current favourite is “Doctor Who”.