MY JOURNEY (PART 3) : Choosing the Hard Path

* See Part 2 here 

Some rare photos during my college years


When I graduated from secondary school, the director gave my friend and I the following unexpected advice: "When you have to choose between what's hard and what's easy, always pick what's hard." At the time, we were a bit confused, but for some reason, I took that advice to heart and it influenced the decisions I made following graduation. 

In Quebec's education system, there's a two-year period between secondary school and university where students start to focus on a specific field for their chosen career. I had to decide between pursuing a career in Pure and Applied Sciences to become an architect, which I perceived as hard, or pursuing a career in fine arts, which I perceived as easy.

After applying to a couple of colleges, I ended up enrolling in a private college that was only open to boys at the secondary level, but open to both boys and girls at the college level. This was a completely different and challenging environment for me. It didn't feel as open and welcoming as my previous school. It had an old boys' club vibe and felt very segregated. But, I still managed to find my footing, make friends with a diverse group of great people, and reserve space for my creativity despite the obstacles. These two years taught me a lot about perseverance, adaptability, and finding the silver linings.   


Just like in my previous school, I found ways to integrate art into my life through any opportunity that presented itself. I took elective classes in fine arts, where I first got to experience life drawing, working in an atelier-style studio, and trying new mediums. I absolutely loved it and I think I did a relatively good job at it. I also continued to improve my drawing skills by sketching classmates and random cartoons when I needed a break from studying. Art was always a stress relief from life's challenges and mentally demanding science classes.

Some work from my college art classes 

Doodles in my school planner

During school breaks, I took the time to create more detailed drawings and to practice what I learned in art classes. One of my favourite piece was a rendition of Venom, a cartoon character, I made for my brother, shown below. I even talked with a friend about starting our own comic series during the summer break. We got as far as exchanging letters with teachers and illustrators at reputable art schools, but "proper school" life got in the way. 

Various drawing made in class or while on break 


I participated to a few art contests and won a prize for an illustration I created for the school literary journal. I was also nominated for the 8th Annual YTV Achievement Awards in the Visual Arts Category. But one of my most surprising wins was when I received a full scholarship to the Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis, right as I was finishing college and starting University. 

The Art Instruction Schools' program had a study-from-home format. They would send me a box of all the tools, workbooks and instruction manual I needed to complete the homework, along with cassette tapes of the lessons. I would send the homework back via mail and they would send the graded homework along with comments recorded on tapes, and the next set of homework. I did very well and really enjoyed learning from the school. However, I think I saw it more as a stress relief and break from my studies in sciences. I may have also been hesitant to fully commit to art as a career at the time, as I wanted to ensure that I would have a stable job. Everything went smoothly and I was able to maintain my "double student life" until it got to be too much. Soon after receiving a special award for being one of their best students, I stopped working on it and never completed the program. I chose what I thought was the so-called hard path - focusing on my studies in sciences to ensure a secure career, but I still kept art close by. 

Awards and homework from the school



When I first joined the college, I was eager to make new connections and become involved in school activities. Since I had previously been a part of my high school's yearbook committee for three years and had gained a lot of experience in that area, I thought my skills and passion would be beneficial for the college's yearbook committee, but I was wrong. The committee was very cliquey and not really open to 'newcomers' like me. As a result, I didn't work on that skill much during my time there and focused on other opportunities instead.


I also had an interest in programming because I saw the connection between complex math, programming and creativity. I was  fascinated by the idea that understanding certain mathematical formulas could make a computer create all kinds of shapes. Despite the classes being challenging, I was actually eager to learn. Unfortunately, once again, it was not a welcoming space for someone like me. I looked like the exact opposite of the majority of the students (and most teachers) in these classes. Not every teacher were politically correct, some were shamelessly proponents of that boys club mentality. And perhaps the competitive old school boys club mentality of that particular school did not help either.  When we were given an extra challenged of programming the solar system, I was fascinated by this challenge and wanted to know more and try it out as well. But, my attempts to ask the teacher for more help were quickly shut down. I noticed that he would spend ample time with the boys engaging in random chit-chats but reluctantly gave me the bare minimum when I finally got a chance to ask my question : The you-don't-need-to-do-this-to-pass-the-class kind of reply. So I had to hold-off on that aspect until a bit later in life.



After graduating from secondary school, I made a decision to not let my shyness hold me back anymore. I realized that it was not only depriving me of enjoyable experiences, but it was also too self-centered. I didn't want to change who I was, but I didn't want to suppress my natural impulses based on fear of what others might think. I realized that most people didn't care as much as I thought they did and I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to try new things and to have a little more fun.

With that in mind, I took a theatre class. However, I was the only person of color in the group and the roles I was given and the feedback I received from my classmates had undertones of discrimination. Even though it was something I was curious about, I felt the environment was not conducive to my personal growth or mental health. So I shut that door pretty quickly as well. Instead of being a part of it, I spent more time watching student theatre and improv shows.

On the other hand, I made friends with a very social and extroverted student who was a huge fan of fashion and he invited me to collaborate on the choreography of the models/dancers for the school's fashion show. It was such a fun time and it definitely helped me come out of my shell without having to deal with the pressures of being in the spotlight. 

Some photos of the final fashion show


I always gravitate towards discussion clubs and tend to end up organizing something. It seems to come naturally. One of my first experiences with public speaking was when I joined the science club in college, where we would bring in guest speakers to talk on various topics during lunchtime. At that time, I wasn't comfortable enough with the environment to do the speaking in front of an audience, but I still dipped my toes into it. It was always satisfying to know that we made a positive difference in the students' lives by expanding their perspectives. 

I also joined a small discussion group where we explored religious and spiritual themes. It was the first time that I felt I was allowed to ask difficult questions and explore various beliefs rather than just accepting what was fed to us previously in religious classes. It allowed me to expand my critical thinking and philosophical mind without guilt. This little group helped me start to find my own path and engage with the world in a way that is more in line with what I believe, rather than what I thought would make others feel comfortable.


My first colouring book for kids over the holidays

I had many ideas for new projects, and I did my best, with what I had, to turn some of them into reality. It didn't happen as often as I would like since it would distract me from my main goal of getting a "good education", but one project that materialized was the creation of a coloring book for kids. Since I was drawing all the time, I thought, why not create a coloring book to keep the kids busy over the holidays. So I created a series of line drawings and had them copied and bound into a booklet. I was able to sell a couple of them to parents of kids that were in the same age range as my younger brother. It gave me a glimpse of what was possible, a spark, but unfortunately, I didn't have the support I needed to keep the fire going. So, after one round of selling a couple of coloring books, I moved on to other projects.

I wish I knew then that it would have been worth it to stick with it and keep evolving the product I had created. I didn't know this project didn't need an expiration date. And since my parents were not entrepreneurial, they didn't know to encourage me to continue with this idea or to connect me with a mentor. Nevertheless, the seed had been planted.


Upon graduation from college, I applied to four universities: McGill University for architecture, Concordia University for engineering, the University of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique for engineering, and the University of Montreal for landscape architecture.

My top choice was to study architecture at McGill, but it was highly competitive and I didn't get accepted. While I was interested in landscape architecture, it didn't appeal to me as much. The atmosphere at Ecole Polytechnique reminded me too much of the same "boys club" environment I had just experienced and I didn't want to spend four years in that kind of atmosphere.

On the other hand, Concordia University felt welcoming and diverse as soon as I set foot on campus. My original plan was to attend for a year and then reapply to McGill, but once I got in at Concordia, I felt that I was in the right place with the right people. I was able to continue to develop my creative skills as an engineering student, as you'll find out in the next entry of this creative journey.

Going to Concordia University