Sarah Yan ’05

BA McGill University

Sarah started at Elmwood in Grade 6, and graduated in the class of 2005. She currently works as an advisor for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. In addition to her role in their Ottawa offices, she works on the ground in an overseas program to help potential Canadian immigrants. Sarah also volunteers her time as a coach with the Canadian Special Olympic swim team.

We recently met with Sarah to chat about how her experiences at Elmwood have impacted her since.

How has Elmwood affected your career path?

Elmwood was a really good school for me because it allowed me to get involved in so many different things. It promoted the values of contributing socially and giving back to the world, which is something that stays with me today. It reflects in my career too, where I work in public service.

Elmwood also taught me to strive to excel—not necessarily to become the best at something, but to make the best of any situation that you’re in. Those values have really helped me in the work I do.

Can you tell us more about your work overseas?

Through my work with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, I’m part of a program that takes me overseas on six-week assignments, interviewing and reviewing applications for people who want to immigrate to Canada. My first assignment was in Singapore, though I also ended up in Ho Chi Min, Vietnam for part of it. I recently finished an assignment in Manila, which was struck by a typhoon partway through my stay; the damage forced a lot of people to find new homes, and I was glad to be there to help those that wanted to come to Canada.

The travel is great because it adds perspective to my job when I come back, and lets me think differently about some of the same problems I’m faced with.

What is your involvement like with the Special Olympics?

I started volunteering with the Special Olympics in Grade 11, when I heard at an Elmwood assembly that they were looking for swim coaches. I’m now the head coach; I oversee the training of athletes with disabilities every Sunday at the University of Ottawa pool. We work with competitive athletes who go to the Special Olympics and national competitions, and also with younger kids, where it’s more of a swimming lesson. It’s really rewarding to see how much athletes of all ages get out of it.

If you could meet anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be?

I would love to meet my great-great-grandmother. She was one of the first Chinese women allowed to immigrate to Canada. I wonder what that was like—to have been separated from your husband for so long and then make the journey here by yourself. I’d love to know what it was like to be a renegade like that.

Do you have any advice for today’s Elmwood students?

I have two pieces of advice. The first is to never be afraid to ask a question—it shows that you’re confident and engaged in what you’re doing. The second is to take advtange of all opportunities, and make your own luck by working hard.

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