People of Georgian: Moving to Ontario spurs grad’s self-acceptance
August 27, 2021

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People of Georgian: Meet Faryal Shehzad

I grew up in Cape Breton, N.S. in a very small town. I was the only Shehzad in the entire phone book.

A person with chin-length brown hair and who's wearing a grey shirt turns to the side and looks at the camera while standing on a beach.

Actually, I didn’t meet another person of colour at school until I was in Grade 7.

Growing up, I remember watching TV shows and everyone was white, looked the same and was blonde, and I thought, “That’s just normal. That’s what the world looks like.”

I moved to Ontario in 2013, and suddenly I was in this brand-new place with so many people who looked like me.

‘I was so used to being stared at’

It was so different. I was so used to being stared at.

I remember so clearly sitting on the subway, and there were five people in front of me. None of them knew each other, and none of them were white.

I was like, “Wow, this is what the world looks like.”

Another big moment for me was when someone asked where I was from, and they meant where in Canada, not my cultural background.

Before it was always “No, no, where are you really from?”

Those little micro-aggressions were so common, and I didn’t realize until I was out of that small, very sheltered, very white town that there were a lot of things I wish I could change about my younger self.

I felt like an outsider growing up. I always felt completely different from my peers no matter how much I tried to assimilate.

That’s what really makes me so passionate about inclusion.

I’ve been watching that show Never Have I Ever. When I first saw it, I remember thinking, “I wish I had this representation when I was younger. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so isolated.”

A person with short, brown hair and who's wearing a grey toque, red winter coat and a nose piercing, smiles while standing outside in the snow.

‘Stop trying to hide and just be yourself’

Looking back, I wish I hadn’t assimilated as much. There are so many things I wish I had embraced more about myself, about my culture.

I wish I hadn’t just let people butcher my name all the time. Faryal – it’s not that hard to pronounce.

It sounds cliché, but I’d tell my younger self not to hide parts of yourself because you think they’re too different or too abnormal. Stop wishing for blue eyes.

Stop trying to hide and just be yourself.

Faryal Shehzad, student in Georgian’s Research Analyst program. She recently won a 2021 BIPOC Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship from Dig Insights.

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This story was originally published Aug. 27, 2021. It was updated March 2, 2022.