Shomik Roy was born and raised in Mumbai, India. His ambition to pursue an MBA from an international business school led him to Canada in May 2018. Unlike most of his peers from business school, Shomik chose the unconventional option of joining the startup ecosystem and currently works as an Account Manager at a leading food delivery app in Toronto. This is Shomik’s story.
Back in Mumbai, I had a great job and was doing well but I reached a point where I wanted to take a break and get an MBA. The factors that guided my decision-making process were the cost of studying overseas and the option to have a work permit that would allow me to stay in the country long enough to recover my expenses.
Hence, based on my research, Canada emerged as the obvious choice. I decided to enrol at the Schulich School of Business since it provided the option to complete my first year at their Hyderabad campus in India and then move to Canada for the second year.
Quality education comes at a cost: Plan, research and prepare
I was aware that studying abroad involved significant investment and I was privileged to have had the means and resources to consider the option. I had enough funds for my first year but for my second year, I was banking on the fact that my permanent residency (PR) would come through which would enable me to leverage the benefits: lower tuition as a PR and a line of credit from one of the Canadian banks.
Fortunately, I received my PR in time and I arrived in Canada in May 2018, about four months prior to the start of my academic year. My efforts in the initial weeks were mainly concentrated on reaching out to the Big Five banks to fund my education. Given the reputation and accreditation of the college, the process was easier than I imagined it to be! I just had to answer a few basic questions and after a half-hour meeting, I had a $100,000 line of credit that I could use to pay for my school expenses — this helped me reduce my dependency on Indian cash flow.
I chose to live on campus because it worked out to be a cost-effective option for me. Most universities have their own accommodation options which are worth exploring. You can begin by checking the school website and then reach out to the admissions team when applying. They are always willing to answer queries. Accommodation can also be found in and around the campus; there’s something to suit every budget. You just have to be prepared to do the research, paperwork and complete the processes.
While you inquire about housing, you can also ask the admissions team about part-time jobs. Usually, there are opportunities on campus such as working at the bookstore or being a research assistant for one of the professors. If you prefer to work off-campus, then you can consider any of the franchise restaurants or coffee shops — they’re always hiring.
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As an international student be prepared for a steep learning curve and some surprises
Stepping into a classroom after a long time felt like a challenge! And getting used to attending three-hour-long sessions took a while. Meeting and learning from people who were from different parts of the world, each with their own unique perspectives, experiences and ambitions was interesting and humbling at the same time.
“During my first week at school, I realized that my peers were a lot smarter than me — and that’s a good thing because you’re there to learn and it’s okay if you’re not the smartest person in the room.”
Your experience as an international student also largely depends on which school you attend. Given the investment required for international education, it’s important to ensure you pick a good school. The admission process at some schools seems convenient and doesn’t have high standards to be met but you also need to understand that as a result, the other students who will be coming in may or may not be as good as you.
Communication was another challenge I faced. Even though I am fluent in English, I quickly realized that North Americans communicate differently; they’re a lot more adept at saying the same thing much faster and in a much better way. This took me a while to get used to and it’s something that I’m still learning. Especially now in the workplace, I speak less and I’m very careful about what I say because it’s helping me pick up the communication style.
Another example is when we had to write reports at school. In India, the expectation is to write longer reports which led students to copy-paste content from Wikipedia and Google search results, without applying much thought to it. But here, it’s more about writing one-pagers and expressing your opinion in a more concise way. This is something I wouldn’t say I’m great at but I’m getting better.
The style of academic delivery differs as well. In India, it is common for students to attend school, then go to a coaching class where the same syllabus is taught. Students receive briefs on the concepts they need to memorize and they then reproduce the same during assessments.
“The education system in Canada is more application based. It doesn’t suffice to simply know the concept — you have to be able to apply it to real life as well.”
An important aspect of student life is managing relationships with professors and peers at school because they are not people from your home country. There are people from all over the world, whose style of communication differs from yours. So getting everyone on the same page is a skill that you need to learn. And that won’t just help you in school but also when you’re in the workplace.
Studying at an internationally acclaimed business school helped me gain new perspectives, improve problem-solving skills and reshape my thought process.
Job search: Skills matter, organizational fit matters even more!
Canada as a country is very risk-averse and that reflects in the recruitment practices as well. Completing my studies from a school like Schulich definitely made life easier. I noticed it opened many doors and people were more receptive to connecting with me.
When I first landed here in the summer (before starting my second-year), my vague career goal was to work in consulting but I didn’t know much about what that entailed. So I started networking and meeting people. Soon after, I realized that consulting was not for me. At that point, I started considering Marketing as a potential career path and wanted to learn more. So I interned with a startup run by a Schulich alumni.
My summer internship actually helped me look beyond the glitz and glamour of startups and drove me to consider working at one full-time. It taught me two important things: One, I liked Marketing but didn’t love it enough to consider it as a career. Two, the startup environment was where I wanted to be. Especially since Toronto currently has one of the fastest-growing tech ecosystems in the world.
I attended a few events like TechTO and found the community to be fantastic! There’s an energy that shows Toronto’s looking to build a lot of things.
“The U.S. was always the dominant tech player but that’s changing now. We’re not replacing Silicon Valley, we’re building a whole new thing and establishing our identity with some serious tech talent. We’re creating some very good products which the U.S. is starting to take note of and parts of Asia have started looking at.”
To educate myself further, I met with many people from various organizations that helped solidify my decision to work in a startup environment.
The network that I’d built, starting from the time I landed and while I was studying, was incredible! When the time came for me to find a job my connections were helpful in making introductions and providing referrals. In retrospect, if I hadn’t done the legwork while I was still in school, it would probably have been a lot more stressful and would have demanded more effort.
After graduation, I applied to positions at various startups and was fortunate to be hired at one of the leading food delivery apps in Toronto, a company with a great culture and one that’s fun to work for! Being a food delivery company, occasionally I even get paid to eat which makes it feel like a dream job!
My career goals have evolved with time: From wanting to work in consulting to aspiring to be part of an established business (that’s already dominating the market) to finding my true calling in the startup ecosystem — to create or lead a business that’s going to dominate the market in the next five to ten years
“Before my MBA, I wanted to be the CEO of Amazon. Today, I want to be a CEO of a company that’s the next Amazon.”
To me, success is as clichéd as it gets — I’d like to own a penthouse on the 60th. floor in downtown Toronto. I dream of running a multi-billion-dollar business. But at the same time, I also want to have a good work-life balance.
Network, give back and keep an open mind
Networking is crucial: who you know can make or break your career! I make it a point to have at least two coffee chats a month: one, to get to know someone new and another with a newcomer or a student so I can give back. I’m very happy that currently there are two CEOs of multi-million-dollar startups who I speak to once a month. My logic is ‘if you want to be a CEO, you need to know what a CEO does and how they think.’ So I find this a great way to learn.
Definitely give back! This is especially true as a newcomer because you were on that side once. If someone hadn’t agreed to meet with you or help you, you wouldn’t have moved ahead. As much as we like to think we are all doing things on our own, we’re really not. There is always a larger ecosystem at play. So I think it’s important to pay our dues as we go along.
Keep an open mind. When I first came to Canada, there was no way I could have predicted I would be working in a startup for food delivery. But keeping my mind open, listening to people, experiencing things, and interning helped me find my path. It’s one thing to come in with a plan and have a set route in place. But if it doesn’t work out, know that there are so many more options.
“Toronto is a fantastic city. There’s so much to explore, there’s so much to see. The people are welcoming. And it does open up a whole new world. It’s really that. It’s a whole new world. And the more open you are to it the more you will benefit.”
Your journey will likely have its highs and lows, things may not work out the way you want, you may get rejections and even not hear back from people. During such phases, it’s important to trust yourself, give yourself time, keep doing what’s in your control and be patient. It’s all just a matter of time.
I feel immensely grateful for all the people who have contributed to my success through their experiences and learnings. Sometimes I can’t believe how I made it through this whole process!
The past two years have been a roller coaster with the highs being super high and the lows being downright back-breaking and getting out of bed the next day felt difficult. I’ve had and continue to have a very privileged life. But this was the first time that I actually had to push myself beyond my comfort zone to a significant extent. And yet, if I could, I’d do it all over again! At the end of the day, it’s all worth it.