The Loran Scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards in Canada, awarding a small group of outstanding Canadian students each year with $100,000 to pursue their undergraduate studies. We talked to one of the 2020 winners, Zelal Kaya from Tommy Douglas Secondary School in Woodbridge, ON about how to handle the Loran Scholarship interview questions, why honesty is key, and what it’s like to wait by the phone to see if she’d won.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a pretty average 18-year-old who watches an absurd amount of Netflix and runs a few clubs! In all honesty, however, I’m a local student from Tommy Douglas S.S. in Woodbridge, ON who is the youth team chair of the McMichael Art Gallery, a part of the Model UN, multicultural and yoga club. In terms of my identity: I’m a proud Kurd who is lucky enough to go back to the Kurdish region of Turkey every summer. Being of Kurdish heritage, family is most important to me! Being the eldest of four is a large role that comes with a lot of responsibility that has made me the person I am today. In addition to this, I have some hobbies I’m passionate about like photography and baking- and I preface this with the word hobby! With this, I grew up with a lot of nature in my life as my dad was a forest engineer and made sure our weekends were filled with a lot of green. It was amazing growing up with someone who loved mother nature so much since it has made me appreciate the little things
What was your reaction when you found out that you were named a 2020 Loran Scholar?
The story is pretty funny since before I left to go home from the interviews, I had to designate the best time for Loran to give me the news. I was so nervous and preoccupied that I completely forgot the time I had written down when I got home, so that entire day was spent waiting on my phone. When they called, I was getting ready to shovel the snow! It was surreal, my mom started to cry and my dad woke up from his nap—that’s when you know it’s something important!
What is the most meaningful leadership experience you’ve had so far?
One of the most meaningful leadership experiences I’ve had would be at the International Refugee Rights Association in Istanbul. This past summer, I was lucky enough to volunteer as I translated vital documents from Turkish to English and met with a Syrian family the NGO placed. I lead this role as I was only one of very few who was bilingual. This was very meaningful for me because of the way I saw my work impact others. The work I translated was used as promotional material and I was able to meet with a family that my group was involved with. It was more morally rewarding than my work with Model UN or McMichael which completely changed my worldview.
What motivates you to give back to your community?
Going back to the Diyarbakir every summer was able to shape the way I interact with my community. As I have seen the immediate struggles of Kurds living in Turkey, it has made my drive for justice and philanthropy much more. Whether it was the fear of using peace signs on the streets in Turkey to the censorship of my heritage: this neglect pushed me to embrace my Kurdish community in the local community. I’ve done this by helping new Kurdish immigrants at school and helping out with Kurdish events. Giving back through the McMichael Art Gallery is motivated through my passion for art and nature. The McMichael is the perfect balance of both that makes me so happy to just be there. From this, it has driven me to volunteer and lead more.
What part of the Loran program are you most looking forward to?
I look forward to all the relationships I will potentially make because of the program! While at the national interviews, I met so many talented and kind people who I’ve had strong relationships with since the interviews. I’ve loved every person I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with and I’m excited to meet with more. I also look forward to the future mentorship as it will provide me with someone to turn to for advice along with the forever connection between scholars. Overall, the connections are what excite me the most!
What are you most looking forward to about university? What do you hope to get involved in there?
I’m looking forward to the independence both university and the Loran program will offer me. Culturally, girls my age don’t tend to leave the nest this young but the opportunities given to me will allow me to break some cultural norms and set a path for my sister! I think having the university experience on residency will make me more resilient and appreciative.
What advice do you have for other students applying for the Loran Award or any other scholarship?
his may be a cliche, but honesty is key. Besides being honest about all the work you may have been a part of, being an honest version of yourself during interviews helps a lot. Everyone there is always qualified, but being qualified doesn’t mean you deserve it. At the end of the day, they are taking a chance on your potential, so being transparent and authentic will show judges you are more than your application. Also, remember to submit all the forms on time
What’s one fun fact about yourself? Is there anything else you want to share?
I used to go around and tell everyone one my brothers were adopted because of a joke my dad made! My mom had to clarify that he was indeed my biological bother to multiple people!
My favourite film is “A Ghost Story” and no one can ever die happily until they watch this film!
You will be working in three different sectors during the summers between school. What kind of summer experiences do you hope to pursue?
I really look forward to doing my public policy internships as it is something I have always been curious about. In terms of the experiences, I look forward to seeing where the internship will take me and what I’ll experience in these new places. Specifically, I want to pursue something that rewards morally and ethically like my time with the International Refugee Rights Association.
Think you have what it takes to become a Loran Scholar? Find out more and how to apply on their official site here.