Student Life

Humans of Concordia: Mahmudul Haque Jishan

How one student uses excess food to help a community at no extra cost

In December 2018, Mahmudul Haque Jishan’s routine late-night departures from work at Arabica Lounge turned into something more. He had noticed the amount of excess food being wasted at the restaurant, and saw an opportunity to improve the living conditions for Montreal’s homeless community.

“I’ve been working at this place since October,” said Jishan. “I saw that there was a lot of food waste, but at the same time, when I’m coming home at night at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., there are still homeless people. I tried one day to give them food and then I went back the next day and asked the same person, ‘Was this food good enough for you?’ They said, ‘Yes.’”

“I tried one day to give them food and then I went back the next day and asked the same person, ‘Was this food good enough for you?’ They said, ‘Yes,’” said Jishan. Photo courtesy of Jishan.

Jishan is from Bangladesh where he says homelessness is a common sight. However, he did not expect it to be the same story in a developed country such as Canada. Additionally, the homeless community in Montreal have to deal with the unbearable and often fatal temperatures during Canada’s harsh winters.

When Jishan first began working at Arabica Lounge near the Sir George Williams campus, he often noticed food that had been wasted by customers. Food was ordered, yet uneaten; such as a small portion of fries, rice, pita, or salad. On his way home, Jishan began to stop by fast food restaurants around campus, namely McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Burger King along Ste. Catherine St. W. These restaurants also had excess food waste and were willing to give it to him to contribute to his initiative.

“There is a Tim Hortons beside Concordia University that is [open] 24/7 and there are at least five or six people outside of there,” said Jishan. “I have three days of work a week and after every night I go, there are still people there.”

Jishan soon noticed the same faces waiting outside the Tim Hortons and continued to give them leftover food. He started to categorize the food into plastic bags and would leave his shifts with enough to feed at least four people. It was not long until others around him began to take notice.

Mahmudul Haque Jishan is pursuing his master’s in engineering at Concordia. Photo courtesy of Jishan.

“The people I work with at the restaurant, my colleagues who are also students, have asked what I was doing and they said ‘Okay, we will do it too.’ I asked my manager ‘Can I do this?’ They said they won’t get involved but they’ll allow me to do it, no problem,” said Jishan.

Jishan hopes that, as he continues his initiative, other restaurants will take notice. Restaurants willing to give their leftovers to the homeless benefit their community at no extra cost. Jishan says that those he has already helped have never complained about receiving wasted food and have always accepted it graciously. He is adamant that if restaurant workers consciously try to conserve food waste during their shift, they could always leave with enough to feed a few mouths.

“I have just started my master’s in engineering,” said Jishan, “and many of the students here are working at different restaurants so we want to make a formal organization where each of us wants to contribute.”

After graduating, Jishan wants to use the connections he has made in school to start an organization that will tackle this issue efficiently. In the meantime, he hopes his story will inspire more people and restaurants to create change. Companies can contribute to a cause that will drastically improve the quality of life for those who are less fortunate without spending a dime. They simply have to start.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

Student Life

An exchange student begins her first business: Roma Experiences

Concordia alumna, TingLi Lorigiano shares her travel exchange journey

Travelling across Europe, going on student exchange, learning a new language and starting a business all sound like goals many students have on their bucket list. One student not only managed to accomplish all these thing, but she did it in just one year.

Concordia alumna TingLi Lorigiano embarked on a year-long student exchange to Italy, during which time she also visited 30 cities in 10 countries. During her stay in Italy, Lorigiano founded Roma Experiences, the first Chinese tour operator service in Rome.

Mountains in the northern part of Italy at Bolzano-Trentino Alto Adige. Photo by TingLi Lorigiano

“I was at the Colosseum in Rome, and I realised that there weren’t any Chinese tour groups,” she said. “So, I inquired what the situation was like, and I decided that I would just start my own.”

Lorigiano is of Italian and Chinese descent and grew up immersed in both cultures. “I grew up with serious Chinese traditions and very traditional Italian traditions. I always had to explain Italian traditions to my Chinese friends and vice versa,” she said. “I felt that it’s important for Chinese visitors to learn about Italian traditions, so I wanted to help them learn about Italian culture.”

According to Lorigiano, no one working in the piazza of the Colosseum spoke Chinese—most were European. “There was a language barrier,” she said. “I connected the two worlds.” Lorigiano speaks fluent Mandarin and was learning to speak Italian at that time. She is now fluent in Italian.

Pasta at Osteria Da Fortunata in Rome, Italy. Photo by TingLi Lorigiano

She started by organizing tours where she would bring Chinese tourists to various restaurants and to visit historical sites such as the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.

With a major in genetic engineering and experience in the tech industry, Lorigiano had no problem setting up her own website and logistics for her business. After creating all the social media accounts, she hired 10 people to be part of her team. “I raised a team from one to 10 in my first three months in a country that I’ve never worked in before, and I didn’t yet speak fluent Italian. I hired tour guides and team promoters. We delivered wonderful historical experiences to Chinese tourists at least three times a day,” she said. “I had to be very meticulous with logistics. I had to buy tickets ahead of time, I had to know how the Colosseum ticketing system worked.”

According to Lorigiano, Roma Experiences has been running for the last eight months and has generated $40,000 CAD in sales revenue. “I was able to sustain myself for the last seven months in Italy. I used the money to travel, pay my rent, live in Rome,” she said.

The business is still running now that Lorigiano is home. The company’s vice-president took over the company. “It’s pretty cool to know that, before this year, in Rome, there were no Chinese tours available. And now they are,” Lorigiano said.

Creating Roma Experiences was an enriching leadership experience for Lorigiano. “It taught me a lot about business, and it showed me that my passions are not in tourism. My passion is in tech. I was way more interested in the website, e-commerce and the retail technology part of it.”

Camels in the Marrakech Morocco desert. Photo by TingLi Lorigiano

In November, Lorigiano is moving to London to work for a tech startup. “I knew that I wanted to work somewhere where the tech scene was more apparent, more vivid and vibrant, so London was the best choice for me,” she said.

Based on her experience, Lorigiano insisted that studying abroad can be life-changing. “You never know what is going to happen,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to go on exchange […] People grow up in Montreal, they work in Montreal, but there are so many other opportunities. Being Canadian, you have great visa opportunities as well.”

Lorigiano said she would advise students to check out all the job, volunteer and internship opportunities offered at Concordia to see what might interest them. “Make a list of things that you think are really important, and just highlight what you want to go visit or inquire about,” she said. “You need to think about what you are losing and what you are gaining.”

“You grow the most when you are put in the most uncomfortable situations such as travelling and being part of things that you are not comfortable with,” Lorigiano said. “It’s just a really great experience.”  

Photos courtesy of TingLi Lorigiano

Student Life

Humans of Concordia: Sera Kassab

How one Concordia student doesn’t let her disability stop her

While Sera Kassab never doubted her career path, she did doubt how she would fit in among other students at Concordia. As a deaf student at Concordia, her scholastic experience is quite unique.

Born deaf in an entirely hearing Lebanese family, Kassab has been in contact with hearing culture from a very young age.

While Kassab said coming to Concordia changed her life for the better, adjusting to her new surroundings was challenging. “I was extremely nervous. I was going into a hearing environment that I am not used to, and everything felt so weird and scary,” she said. The 28-year-old student communicates using American Sign Language (ASL).

Art, in all its forms, has always been Kassab’s passion—she wasn’t going to let being deaf stop her from pursuing it. Kassab is now in her sixth year in the studio arts undergraduate program, pursuing her dream the only way she knows how–by letting her art speak for itself.

When she started university, Kassab said some students were caught off-guard by her at first, since many had never met a deaf person before. One of the hardest parts for her was breaking down people’s misconceptions. “People think deaf people are feeble-minded because we don’t always understand what hearing people are trying to tell us,” Kassab said. She, however, argues her deafness strengthens her other senses and actually serves as an advantage. Being deaf makes her more visual and attentive to details that hearing people might miss, she said. Kassab also developed a stronger memory, which helps her in school. When she paints,photographs, sculpts or designs, it helps her recreate things she sees and likes more easily.

Concordia’s Access Centre for Students with Disabilities offers Kassab interpreting services, tutoring and note-takers. Just like any regular student, Kassab attends her classes on campus, but she is accompanied by an interpreter. The interpreter translates the teacher’s explanations and comments made by students into ASL.

However, if the interpreter can’t make it, Kassab has to skip the class. Trying to follow the course without hearing anything and trying to communicate on her own would be too demanding. She remembers one time the interpreter didn’t show up, but she felt so uneasy with the situation she stayed in class anyway and just asked her teacher and classmates a lot of questions. Some students were patient with her, but she could tell they felt uncomfortable.

Kassab said feeling disconnected from her surroundings can be scary and difficult to deal with. She constantly worries about missing information, especially when teachers and students speak too quickly, or talk over each other. In moments like these, she relies on note-takers and students who offer their help. Other times, she’ll ask the teacher to go back over certain points. “After class, some students will actually come and thank me because they too can understand better,” Kassab said.

Today, Kassab feels she’s settled in and is “part of a family” at Concordia. She’s become more receptive to interactions with other students—some are even learning sign language to better communicate with her. Alongside fellow Concordia students and close friends, she’s participating in an artistic project called Mtl Seekers. The group was started by and for artists seeking to move up and evolve in their artistic careers. Within the group, they distinguish themselves by their different artistic tastes and influences. They will have their first art exposition next fall.

Kassab has never seen her deafness as a limitation, and she encourages both deaf and hearing people to see it as she does. By pursuing her dreams despite obstacles, Kassab hopes to “inspire deaf children to become artists [and to not] be afraid to show their talent.”

Student Life

Humans of Concordia: Jack Beaumont

A first-year design student making clothes, the sustainable and eco-friendly way

Alexander McQueen’s controversial designs sparked Jack Beaumont’s passion for fashion at a young age. This passion quickly turned to action and, at the age of seven, they started sewing.

Beaumont’s brand, Conatus, officially launched two years ago when the designer was 17 years old.

The idea: to manufacture sustainable clothing. “I realized that the planet is sick and, in order to help it heal itself, we need to work on sustainability,” said Beaumont. Now 19, Beaumont is a first-year design student at Concordia.

Conatus is unique, focusing on using sustainable fabrics and dyes for its clothing. “When it comes to fashion, there are already too many people that are doing fashion unsustainably,” said Beaumont. “Eco-fashion is really the only way we can go in 2016.”

Beaumont was born in Toronto and moved to Vancouver in 2002. They finally settled down in Vernon, B.C. in 2009, where they still live when they are not staying in residence during the school year.  Beaumont said growing up identifying as non-binary was hard.

“When I was in Vancouver, the harassment got to a point where there were no other options but to relocate,” said Beaumont. Through the brand, however, Beaumont was able to create a kind of “shell” from the bullying. They said expressing themselves through fashion helped them stay strong.

Beaumont also aims to create clothing that acts as a shell—making the person wearing the garment feel strong and protected but, most importantly, themselves. “There is that fine balance between the strength and rigidity but also the fragility and the softness [of the frabrics],” said Beaumont.

Before Beaumont began producing clothes, they extensively researched and taught themselves about fabrics, dyes and different methods of production using organic fabrics. “When I was formulating [dyes], I researched some of the traditional and contemporary methods of dyeing,” said Beaumont. Black walnut became one of their favourites products to derive dye from.  Beaumont produces their clothes from their home in Vernon, B.C.

The designer described Conatus as avant-garde—an innovative and extravagant type of fashion. “People admire the brand as it is, but some couldn’t see themselves wearing a lot of it, as it very conceptual,” said Beaumont. The pieces they make have a modern haute-couture look to them.  A lot of the clothing is sleek, clean, monochromatic and not too fitted.

Beaumont hopes that they can eventually bring Conatus to a less niche clientele, with more wearable pieces.

“I hope that it is something that Concordia can teach me—sort of being able to take your own spin on a design and make it somehow wearable and sellable,” said Beaumont.

The young designer and their brand have slowly garnered worldwide attention, thanks to their social media platforms, through which Beaumont posts and sells most of their merchandise.

The clients, mostly individuals concerned with the environment, contact Beaumont directly through social media, or through their website that is temporarily down. From there, they discuss the details of the piece, including size and colour.  If the client is based in Vernon, the order is hand delivered.

One of the designer’s ideas for a future project is to take silk fibres and replicate them through a 3D printer or use a vat of genetically-modified bacteria to have them produce a garment formed from bacterial structures.

While Beaumont plans to re-launch their website in the near future, for now, you can find their  portfolio on Tumblr under “jackbeaumontportfolio.”

Student Life

Humans of Concordia: Sandrine Vaillancourt

Communications and cultural studies student by day, fashionista blogger by night

At the age of 13, Sandrine Vaillancourt started a personal project, and kept it a secret for a few months. Today, that project is far from a secret.

When Vaillancourt started her blog, “I am Sandrine”, it was simply a hobby. Now, at age 19, the communications and cultural studies major has 2,000 views per article, and major fashion brands knocking on her door, wanting to collaborate with her.

Vaillancourt first got into blogging when her mentor, Audrée Archambault, a Montreal-based blogger, encouraged her to write a teen column on Archambault’s blog, “Elle M.”  “She really inspired me and introduced me to everyone [in the industry],” said Vaillancourt.

Vaillancourt decided to start her own fashion blog, and most of her friends were doing the same. However, unlike most of her friends, she was able to keep hers going longer than a month. Over time, her blog evolved from being French, to bilingual, to strictly English, as most of her readers are anglophone.

This pastime of hers became life-changing. “I was already into fashion but never showed my outfits on the blog. I just posted pictures of the clothes I liked. I was too shy at the time, especially because I was so young,” said Vaillancourt. The more “I Am Sandrine”’s audience expanded, the more her confidence and communication skills grew.  Today, she is often invited to a variety of events where she is surrounded by people in the fashion and blogging industry.  Vaillancourt said it was “intimidating but also inspiring” at first. She was now part of the world she had been looking in on for years.

Her expanding network of contacts in the Montreal fashion industry introduced her to new friends, as well as new collaboration opportunities. Today, she teams up with Montreal designers like Noemiah and Mimi Hammer.  Vaillancourt said these collaborations are not only good for her blog’s content, but also a great way to promote the local economy.

The blog has helped her improve her editing and design skills, but Vaillancourt said it has also helped her grow as an individual. She said the experience has taught her how to say no to certain projects and collaborations, especially to brands that don’t fit her vision. The blogger describes her style as a mix between Scandinavian fashion and Kate Middleton’s style, as it is minimalistic, but with delicate detailing.

Thanks to her blog, Vaillancourt has worked with big names like Lole, Aritzia, Coach and Nars. Photo by Ana Hernandez.

Over the years, the fashionista has worked with big names like Lole, Aritzia, Coach and Nars.  The content of her blog varies from tips on how to wear frills, to more personal diary-like entries. Her guideline for organizing her thoughts is that there is no guideline. She recently wrote an article titled “I’m Not Apologizing Anymore,” in which she discussed learning not to apologize for being herself, or for her style.  “It’s my blog so I don’t have to please anyone,” said Vaillancourt. Even when Vaillancourt was mocked at times by fellow students in high school, she kept her head up, following what she wanted to do, and talking about the things that she enjoys.

Her story comes full circle with a young girl who was inspired by Vaillancourt to start a blog of her own. “She’s been reading my blog since the beginning and asked me to give her tips on starting her own blog a couple of years later,” said Vaillancourt. “It’s also really nice to recognize familiar usernames from Instagram that have been with me for the past six years.”

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