Georgian grad from Japan supports international students

It’s International Students’ Day! Learn how Kenta Shirakura, a Georgian grad originally from Japan, became an important member of a team of people supporting international students.

When Kenta Shirakura first showed up at C building on the Barrie Campus, only days after landing in Canada from Japan in 2011, he wanted to call his mom to let her know he made it safely. He really needed to hear her voice, but it wasn’t a simple process.

He had a phone card, but also needed to use cash. Before he could start the call, he had to figure out which coins were quarters and he didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone for help because at the time, he didn’t feel confident enough to explain what he needed.

“That was my very first-time experience in Canada, as well as Georgian,” notes Kenta, who was enrolled in the English for Academic Purposes program at the time. He later completed the Hospitality Management – Hotel and Resort program, in 2015.

“When I first arrived, I wouldn’t ask questions and I couldn’t express what I was really wanting to ask. So, I would get different answers and I would be like, okay, that’s not really what I’m looking for, but I will just say, ‘yes, thank you,’ because I was afraid to probe further.”

Kenta Shirakura

Although Kenta is fluent in English now, he uses his early experiences to help international students.

Kenta as a student working in a hospitality lab
Kenta, working in a Georgian hospitality lab, as a student

For several years, Kenta worked as the housing co-ordinator for the Segal International Centre at the Barrie Campus,  alongside Siddhant Taneja, the International Student Services Officer. Together they answered questions and found resources for international students who can experience a wide range of challenges, from getting around campus, to finding housing or even experiencing feelings of loneliness or sadness.

“I will ask them questions, almost like a probing question, to say, ‘is this really what you’re asking for, or do you have anything else that you need help with?’” he says, noting that empathy is key.

To help international students connect with one other and have their questions answered before and after they get to Georgian, the Segal International Centre hosts Instagram Live Chats three times a week. They also started a WhatsApp group to keep people connected.

Kenta recently accepted a position as an International Experience Consultant for the Co-op and Career Success team, where he works to ease the transition of international students into the workplace – and remains just as dedicated to maintaining a student-friendly campus.

Kenta holding a Canadian flag

The pandemic has created a lot of unknowns when it comes to studying internationally.

Georgian has been committed to providing all students, particularly international students, with information to help everyone navigate the challenges they’ll face coming into Canada and getting safely set-up with accommodation once they get here.

“I’m very happy to be in the position where I can change that experience for many international students. You know, trying to improve the processes and information available and then provide them with more support.”

Kenta credits the support he received at Georgian for his own successes.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to work at Georgian because it was really one of my dreams to work for Georgian when I was studying here,” says Kenta. “My life in Canada has been really around Georgian and I’m very thankful to them for helping me accomplish what I have and to contribute.”

Become an international student

Georgian College welcomes students from more than 85 countries speaking more than 110 languages. Study English, graduate with a diploma, degree or certificate and land the job of your dreams, or gain specialized skills through Georgian’s graduate certificate programs. 

Kenta on People of Georgian

“The social culture – how people react and behave in social environments – matched my personality more than Japanese society, so I really found my true personality when I came here. I especially loved experiencing cultural diversity in Canada and being able to meet different people.”

This article was originally published in the spring 2021 edition of GeorgianView magazine, the college’s alumni publication. It was revised and re-shared in November 2021.

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