Gala 2019 is a rewarding experiential learning opportunity for Selkirk College students. This evening is made possible by the learners in the Professional Cook Training, Resort & Hotel Management and Contemporary Music & Technology programs. As well, International students in avenues such as the Post-Graduate Diploma in Gerontological Nursing Program will benefit from the funds raised this evening. We are pleased to share some of their stories so you can get to know these amazing students a little better.
Our Remarkable Students
Siji Olunuga – Contemporary Music & Technology (Year One)
Packing a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics & Economics from the University of Leeds, Siji Olunuga’s pathway to the Contemporary Music & Technology Program could be considered unorthodox. To Olunuga, it’s perfectly logical.
“It helps in the way I think,” the 24-year-old says. “My brain is used to having to memorize complex formulas and that helps with the music. Somehow my brain interprets.”
Siji Olunuga will be one of the performers in the student bands that take the stage at Gala 2019 on November 30. Olunuga arrived to the Nelson-based program from his home in Lagos, Nigeria.
Olunuga was raised in Lagos, Nigeria where music was always part of his life and classical music his focus. After high school, he headed to England to start his undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds. He decided to take his third year in Canada where he studied at the University of Waterloo that provided the option to combine math with music.
Though shy to perform in public, Olunuga began collaborating with his peers and eventually took the stage at some open mic nights. It was during his year in Canada that Olunuga realized music was more than just a hobby.
“That is when everything changed for me, I decided at that point to be a musician and take this seriously.”
He finished off his degree back in England and returned to Lagos where his family assumed he would put his new credentials to use and start a career in finance. Olunuga had different plans. He took a job with an online television company as a composer and freelanced for year working on short films.
“I really know how to interpret scenes in film, I can see the scene and I know how to write the music for it,” he says. “But, it was a little weird for me to be in the industry without proper training. It was pure talent for me and I soon realized it’s important to learn how to do it properly.”
Though nervous about what his parents would think about heading in a different direction, once he let them listen to some of the music he had created there was support for his desire to pursue a formal education in music. Having enjoyed his time in Canada, he began searching for post-secondary music program options and just under the deadline came across Selkirk College.
He left Nigeria on a Sunday carrying three bags and his piano. After grueling international travel, he arrived to the West Kootenay and was in class by Monday morning.
“I didn’t slow down until I was in class, I had to pinch myself because I didn’t believe that I made it here.”
Classical music remains his focus, but the broad spectrum of musical styles in the Contemporary Music & Technology Program helps fuel his creativity as he works towards the ultimate goal of composing for film and video games.
“Learning in another style will help me when I am writing classical music,” Olunuga says. “If I only make classical music then it puts me in a box. If I am playing different styles, I can take some of the chords and ideas to put into what I am writing so it will make it my own. This will make me sound different… I will not sound like anybody else, I will sound like me.”
Lagos is the most populous city in Africa and one of the fastest growing urban centres on the planet. Moving to a serene rural setting has been an adjustment, but Olunuga appreciates the extra focus provided by the intimate vibe both inside the classroom and out.
“As much as I like being in a big city, it’s beautiful here and I like getting to experience the mountains and the small town. When you come to school here, you know everyone and the teachers know you. The teachers want to focus on the students and everybody is very supportive.”
Alisa Louise – Contemporary Music & Technology (Year One)
Working at a Vancouver call centre was not how Alisa Louise imagined using her voice. The steady paycheque and benefits provided financial comfort, but her passion for singing was being buried.
The remedy came when she loaded up her car for an unknown future in an unknown town.
“I know what the alternative is, I really know it,” says the 27-year-old. “I know the daily grind, staring at a computer all day. For me, that took away what I love. So I am working my butt off here; there is no alternative in my mind. I have already spent 10 years doing Plan B and now I am giving myself a proper shot.”
Alisa Louise is a first-year student in the Contemporary Music & Technology Program and will be one of the perfomers in Gala 2019 that takes place on November 30.
Heavily influenced by her grandmother’s love of old movies and jazz while growing up in Coquitlam, Louise started performing in musicals as a little kid and by high school was playing coffee houses. She had her sights set on the music program at Capilano University after graduation, but felt deflated when her beloved grandmother passed away and the cost of post-secondary seemed too daunting.
While working at the call centre, Louise continued to perform occasionally and improved her skills by getting up at 4 a.m. to take free courses online. The reason for setting the alarm so early was to enable her voice to be fresh and not worn-out after working at the call centre.
“It’s tough because you can’t give music the attention it needs to develop,” she says. “It’s made that much more difficult when you work in a call centre and by the end of day your voice is so tired, it’s difficult to go and sing at night.”
The seeds for attending Selkirk College came when she first heard the song “Hideaway” by Contemporary Music & Technology Program alumna Kiesza. The 2014 pop/dance hit made Kiesza an international star and Balosh soon discovered the musician had attended a small college in Nelson.
Earlier this year, she made the decision give formal training another shot and took a chance on Selkirk College. She left the unfulfilling comfort of secure employment in the Lower Mainland for uncertainty in the jagged mountain terrain of the West Kootenay.
“I had never been to Nelson and came here with my car loaded to the brim with my stuff, just hoping for the best,” Louise says. “It has really, really worked out. I feel that for the first time in my life, I am flourishing which is actually kind of hard to process. I have gone through a lot to get here and it really feels like the right time.”
On the second day of living in student housing on the Tenth Street Campus, she had already written a song with a fellow first-year. Mostly self-taught to this point in her musical education, Louise has been exposed to a steep learning curve with an immersion she thought would never happen.
With inspiring mentorship from the uber-talented program faculty, the fire now burns brighter than ever.
“What sticks out is how amazing the teachers are, any time I have needed extra help they are there,” she says. “The whole faculty are amazing musicians and you can totally trust their guidance. I have only been in class for three months, I already feel like I have made lifelong connections with both the teachers and the students.”
Spencer Tapanainen – Resort & Hotel Management (Year Two)
When Spencer Tapanainen arrived to the Tenth Street Campus for his first taste of post-secondary education, the 27-year-old was already packing more than a decade worth of hospitality experience in a variety of positions.
His industry background made the adjustment back to the classroom easier, but he quickly found there was plenty more to learn.
Second-year Resort & Hotel Management Program student Spencer Tapanainen will be part of the team providing exceptional service at Gala 2019.
“This program really opens up your eyes to the extent of the industry,” he says. “I have a lot of experience, but I didn’t know how far you can go and all the opportunities that exist.”
Raised in Revelstoke, Tapanainen started washing dishes at a pub when he was 13. Over the next dozen years he worked in many aspects of the industry from prep cook and delivery driver to bartender and bouncer.
He decided to return to school in 2018 to formalize his training and take his career to a new level. It has worked. A strong performance in first-year helped him land a prized summer work term at the Wikaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island where he continued to develop his training at one of the most celebrated properties in British Columbia.
“It was very high-class and that is why I went. It was a new challenge and something I would not have gotten without the program.”
After serving five-course meals with wine paring to elite travelers, Tapanainen returned for his second-year of the program with bolstered enthusiasm for the industry. Upon graduation this coming spring, he hopes to eventually open his own restaurant or hotel.
“I want to work for myself,” he says. “I have a lot of ideas and want to have an impact. I want to take pieces from all the places and people I have worked for over the years, take all the good and create my own.”
One of the leaders in his class, Tapanainen says the annual Selkirk College Gala is a time for students to shine.
“Gala is an important event for students because it’s the grand show. It’s taking everything that we have learned up to that point with service and applying it to a real-world situation. It shows students on a grander scale what is possible, what it actually takes to execute an event at this level. Some people will gravitate towards this type of event and atmosphere with the stress and challenges because it ultimately shows the student where they stand.”
Kisook Cho – Resort & Hotel Management (Year Two)
It takes loads of courage to travel half way across the planet to attend post-secondary, but Kisook Cho is up to the challenge.
When her family made a decision to have their 13-year-old son complete high school in San Francisco, Cho decided to also leave the Philippines to embark on a new chapter of her life.
Kisook Cho is a second-year Resort & Hotel Management Program student. SHe will be part of the team providing top-notch service at Gala 2019.
“I didn’t work for many years because I was raising my son and taking care of the family, I didn’t put my name in front of anyone in terms of working,” she says. “I wanted to have my own working life, that’s why I came here.”
Raised in South Korea, Cho attended university in her hometown of Seoul where she majored in French and French Literature. She traveled to Philippines to learn and explore different cultures after graduation from university, falling in love with the country and eventually becoming a tour guide.
After she was married and had her son, Cho focused on being a mom. With her son moving to North America, Cho also felt the urge to get back into learning and discovered Selkirk College. Now in her second year of studies in the Resort & Hotel Management Program, Cho has a zeal for the knowledge and skills being taught on Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus.
“This program has given me confidence, I used to be quite introverted,” she says. “Through presentations in class and the work we are doing, you can’t be that way. It’s fun to challenge myself and I’m happy to achieve something that I didn’t think was possible. It’s very rewarding.”
With an ability to speak five languages—Korean, English, Filipino, Mandarin and French—and a background in the travel industry, Cho is well equipped for a successful career in the hospitality industry. She credits her instructors and peers for the knowledge and confidence needed to help her find success.
“I’m really blessed to be Nelson. Without ever coming here previously, I didn’t know that it would be such a beautiful small city. It was lucky to find Selkirk College and to have this great program right here.”
Amber Estlin: Professional Cook Training (Year Two)
Four years ago, Amber Estlin’s husband was in a serious workplace accident at a sawmill near Williams Lake. Out of a near tragedy that almost took his life, has come a new adventure for the young family.
After mending from a broken back and broken leg, part of Andrew’s recovery included an opportunity to train in a new career that enabled him to work with the scars of that terrible day at the mill. The family moved to Nelson so he could enrol in the Selkirk College Professional Cook Training Program. Amber worked as a care aide at Mountain Lakes Seniors Community while raising their young daughter.
Amber Estlin is originally from Williams Lake. She will be part of the team preparing the amazing meal at Gala 2019.
After graduating from his second year of the program, Andrew went to work at Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort. Then it was Amber’s turn to head to the classrooms and kitchen at Selkirk College where she is following the same path in the same program as the couple pursues their goal of opening a bakery on Vancouver Island.
“The accident was a blessing in disguise because we were both doing jobs that we didn’t want,” says the 26-year-old. “Because of that moment, it made us pursue dreams that we have been wanting for a long time.”
After high school, Amber went to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops to take the Healthcare Assistant Program. Though a rewarding and in-demand career, she knew that true satisfaction was to be found elsewhere.
“I have always wanted to cook, but just kept putting it off,” she says Amber. “I finally decided that I wanted to pursue my dream of cooking. This is the happiest that I have ever been.”
A star student in the program, Amber is firmly focused on her passion. Along with a formal education, she works part time as the pastry chef at Ainsworth. When not in class or at work, she gets busy in her own kitchen until the wee hours of the morning. It’s all part of the couple’s bigger plan.
“We are really focused on experimenting at home,” Amber says, adding that her four-year-old daughter Gray is often by their side in the kitchen happily lending a hand. “I wake up and bake at home, I come to school and cook, I go home and bake until 2 a.m. I love it!”
When she reflects on what has spurred her passion, Amber goes back to growing up in Williams Lake.
“When I was young, my Baba would cook for us. We all had busy lives and when the family would get together, she would cook. It brought all of us together and we would sit down at the table and take a break from our lives. We would talk and share stories while having this great meal. I just want to do that for other people.”
Tsz Wing Lee: Professional Cook Training (Year Two)
Tsz Wing Lee arrived to Canada in 2017 from Hong Kong with very little knowledge of English and a desire to engage in the international language of cooking.
Now a second-year student in the Professional Cook Training Program, Lee is making great strides in both the kitchen and in conversation.
“I like to study cooking because it is more than just a recipe,” he says. “It’s interesting to study in Canada because Western food is so different from Asian food. It’s all new, everything is different from the culture to the ingredients. I have learned so much here.”
Tsz Wing Lee is originally from Hong Kong. He will be part of the team preparing the delicious meal at Gala 2019.
When he left China, Lee was a barista at Hong Kong coffee shop where he was in a supervisory role. After spending a year in Vancouver on a working holiday, Lee fell in love with Canada and decided that he would start a Canadian education with the goal of eventually immigrating. To get better at English, he knew that leaving Vancouver was necessary.
“It’s easier in Vancouver, but it is better to push myself and learn English,” says the 27-year-old. “When I was on the SkyTrain, I hear lots of sounds that are familiar and could get by if I just speak Cantonese or Mandarin. But then there will be no change to my language skills.”
He came to the West Kootenay to take the English Language Program at the Selkirk College Castlegar Campus. He liked the area, so he moved down Highway 3A and enrolled in the Professional Cook Training Program.
“The best part of Selkirk College is the teachers. They have the knowledge, they are kind and they are patient… they want us to succeed.”
After completing his second year, Lee plans to continue his education in the Culinary Management Program at Selkirk College starting in September and eventually begin the process of immigration so that he can open his own restaurant in Canada.
“I really like the natural beauty of Canada and how it so multi-cultural, Canadians are very welcoming of people from other cultures. I want share what I have learned and share my passion by cooking for others.”
To get there, he will continue to rely upon his mentors to help guide the way.
“The best part of Selkirk College is the teachers. They have the knowledge, they are kind and they are patient… they want us to succeed. Not just the teachers, but all the support at Selkirk College is important to help us get through.”
Kristina De Castro – Gerontological Nursing (Year Two)
Going from the most densely populated city on Earth to the West Kootenay is bound to create pangs of culture shock, but Kristina De Castro has adjusted just fine.
With a Bachelor of Nursing in hand and several years of working in the healthcare sector in her hometown of Manilla behind her, De Castro arrived to the Castlegar Campus in 2018 to take the Post-Graduate Diploma in Gerontological Nursing.
“People are so different in a small community where you are closer to each other and family seems so much more important,” says the 31-year-old. “In the big city it’s just work, work, work. You get to enjoy your life so much more in smaller communities.”
After high school in the Philippines, De Castro considered becoming a doctor or a pilot. She instead chose nursing and graduated from university in 2009. After almost a decade working her way up to a supervisory position in nursing, she decided that Canada provided better opportunities both professionally and for her young son.
When she came to Canada to pursue post-secondary at Selkirk College, the single mom left her seven-year-old son in the Philippines with her mother so she could concentrate on creating a new life for her family.
“For the first three months after I arrived, I was crying every night because I missed my son,” she says. “But when I think about how my future is better in Canada compared to the Philippines, it’s the family that provides me that inspiration to keep going.”
Making it through a two-year program is not easy for international students who are required to pay for the full cost of their education in Canada. With tuition more than double what domestic students pay, getting through a two-year program requires resolve. De Castro works 20 hours a week as a care aide and gets some assistance from her parents. Her father has worked in Saudi Arabia for the last 40 years in order to help provide for his family.
Earlier this year, De Castro received a $500 bursary to help offset the cost of her expenses. The award went much deeper than a simple boost to her bank account.
“We study hard and to get a financial award, it makes it feel like a reward for all the hard work we are putting in,” De Castro says. “It also helps you feel appreciated and supported. It’s very difficult to leave your home and live in a new country, you get down emotionally. When you receive an award like this, it helps make you more determined to complete your studies.”
De Castro will graduate in April and is hopeful that her son will make the trip for the ceremony on the Castlegar Campus. After graduation, she plans to start the process of immigrating so she can bring her expertise to her adopted home and raise her son in Canada.
Now settled into the wide open spaces of rural British Columbia, De Castro is thankful for her small town start at Selkirk College.
“It was easy for me to get adjusted, especially because of Selkirk College,” she says. “The school and the teachers are very supportive, whenever we need something they understand. They help us both inside the classroom and out of class.”
Anju Pradeep – Gerontological Nursing (Year Two)
When Anju Pradeep embarked for Canada from her home in southern India to attend Selkirk College in 2018, she left behind her husband and one-year-old daughter. Determined to pave the way to a brighter future for her family, the pain of that moment was swallowed as she started a new educational journey in the Post-Graduate Diploma in Gerontological Nursing.
“All of the students in this program, it takes courage to leave their home to come here and survive,” says the 28-year-old. “It takes lots of pain for us to leave our country and adapt to another country. But Selkirk College and the Canadian people are so supportive, that helps make us do it.”
Anju graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing from medical college in India and worked for five years in a hospital setting, the last four as a pediatric intensive care unit nurse. Salaries for nurses in India are low compared to Canada and their contribution to the healthcare system is more appreciated.
“The dignity that a nurse has in India is less than in Canada. In Canada it is a dignified position.”
Her husband and daughter were granted visas earlier this year and have now joined Pradeep in Castlegar. To make ends meet, her husband works full-time and she logs 20 hours a week as a care aide. Despite the incomes, international students pay more than double the tuition fees than domestic students. Creating more financial resources through scholarships and bursaries is one way to help those who come from abroad to study at Selkirk College.
“I’m so excited to hear about this kind of support for future students,” she says of the fundraising goals for Gala 2019. “When we come here, we do need support financially because it costs us a lot of money. This kind of financial support is important because the struggle will be less for future students.”
There are still challenging years ahead before her family gets established in what they hope will be their adopted home country. After graduating this April, Pradeep plans to start the process of immigrating to Canada so that she can contribute the future of our healthcare system.
“What motivates me to come here, my daughter’s future,” she says. “It’s our dream to stay in Canada, we don’t want to go back. It costs lots of money to do this and we came here with a goal.”