Adult education student in Vancouver wins UBC scholarship

Provincial cuts threaten some free VSB programs


When Surayya Jan got an email from UBC, a quick skim was all she needed.

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"I didn't even read the whole thing," she said. "I just saw $40,000 and congratulations."
After the initial shock wore off, Jan, 18, learned she had not only been accepted to UBC, but she's also getting what is practically a full ride. She didn't earn the prestigious Meekison Arts Student Entrance Award by following the typical overachiever path.
Born in England and raised in Pakistan, Jan knew trauma from an early age. Her mother, a human rights activist with the UN, died when she was nine years old. "After I lost my mom, I didn't really enjoy my childhood much," she said. Jan attended private school in Islamabad — which she said was more difficult than public school in Canada — and she took singing and dancing lessons in her spare time.
Then in 2005, the apartment building she lived in with her sister and father was destroyed in a 7.6 magnitude earthquake. Close to 79,000 people died in the quake and its aftermath, but her immediate family survived. Shortly thereafter, she and her sister were relocated to Vancouver where she now lives with her mother's sister.
Jan has always wanted to emulate her mother.
"She was very educated," she said. "She was a human rights activist in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, [and] fought for the rights of women and children."
Jan hopes to study International Relations at UBC, with the ultimate goal of returning to Pakistan as a diplomat.
But for someone struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, getting the education to do that hasn't been easy.
"Two years ago, there was a point in my life where I was just struggling to get to school. I was all over the place. I couldn't even study properly. I had no focus, no concentration, nothing," she said.
She went to several high schools in Vancouver, but couldn't find one that worked for her. Eventually, she had to take close to half a year off to deal with her mental health.
When she returned to school, it was to the Roberts Education Centre, one of six Vancouver School Board (VSB) adult education institutions that offer high school completion and upgrading courses for adults. She said the flexible schedule offered by Roberts — it runs on a semester system, with classes offered during evenings — worked better for her than regular high school.
Schools such as Roberts, whose programs are mostly free, may face funding cuts. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Education said it would reduce the number of courses offered for per-student grants. The VSB said it may have to charge students $425 for courses not funded by the government to keep the centres open. 
The ministry maintains core programming will remain free.
For now, Jan feels the mix of excitement and terror familiar to anyone embarking on a new part of their educational journey at UBC. She hopes to continue volunteer work with the Canadian Mental Health Association, join clubs and make friends.
She wants to be just a regular student, albeit with just a touch of the extraordinary.
Twitter: @jonnywakefield


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