Meet Masoud Riyazati: Academic Bridging Program Graduate & U of T Alumnus
"The Bridging Program offers a valuable opportunity for personal transformation, shaping individuals into new and evolved versions of themselves."
By Emma Culpeper
I recently caught up with Masoud Riyazati, a 2017 graduate of the Millie Rotman Shime Academic Bridging Program who completed his Honours Bachelor of Arts in June 2023. With recruitment for the fall 2023 session of the Academic Bridging Program now underway, I asked Masoud if he could share his thoughts about the program to help prospective students assess if this might be the right pathway for them.
Masoud majored in Anthropology and completed minors in Buddhism, Psychology & Mental Health and Visual Studies. His academic journey was unique in that he maintained his multidisciplinary arts practice throughout his degree and completed an Artist Residency at Hart House during his final year of study. In the interview that follows, Masoud describes how the Academic Bridging Program served as an “ideal starting point for initiating positive change,” marking the beginning a transformative journey that would allow him to grow both personally and academically.
How did you become interested in the Academic Bridging Program?
I relocated to Canada as a refugee, embarking on a journey to build a new life from scratch. However, to support myself financially, I worked in various random jobs, including construction, restaurants, and labor positions. Despite lacking prior academic experience, I had a strong desire to pursue a university education. Initially, I had doubts about my abilities and felt uncertain about taking the leap into higher education. But, a close friend who was also enrolled in a bridging program introduced me to this opportunity. One day, I visited the University of Toronto and immediately knew that it was where I wanted to study. Motivated by this realization, I registered for the Bridging Program in the summer of 2017, marking the beginning of my new academic journey.
Can you describe what the Academic Bridging Program community felt like?
I participated in the Bridging program during the summer, which was a relatively short duration. However, I distinctly recall feeling at ease in the classroom alongside my fellow classmates. Surprisingly, I did not sense any judgment or misunderstanding, despite my limited communication and speaking skills. It appeared to me that everyone was understanding and accepting.
What were your biggest challenges during the Bridging program or during your degree?
Managing the pace of courses and meeting deadlines proved to be demanding work. Learning and comprehending complex academic content in a foreign language requires a significant amount of time and effort. It was a time-consuming, challenging task that presented its own set of difficulties. Consequently, I had to allocate a substantial portion of my time to grasp the study materials, which, unfortunately, limited my ability to work and earn sufficient funds for my expenses. As a result, financial difficulties persisted throughout my degree program. However, despite these obstacles, I remained steadfast in my pursuit. I recognized that the ultimate outcome justified the hardships I faced. I viewed these challenges as opportunities for personal growth and development, realizing that they would shape me into a stronger individual.
What was the most unexpected thing about Bridging for you?
I was really surprised to discover that by enrolling in this program, I had the chance to become a student at the University of Toronto. All I had to do was achieve the required grade, and I could be a U of T student. It was an exciting revelation that fuelled my motivation, as it meant I could fulfill my dream of studying at such a prestigious university.
Are there any personal experiences you would like to share – key moments or people that made a difference during your studies?
Being a student gave me a boost of confidence, making me realize my own capabilities when it comes to studying. Moreover, it provided me with valuable opportunities for personal growth, allowing me to make new friendships and connect with individuals who could impart knowledge and wisdom. The supportive environment I found myself in surrounded me with people who had so much to offer, and I embraced the chance to learn from them.
What did it feel like to be a Woodsworth College student?
I always received support, both financially and with academic advice. I felt fortunate to have a supportive community surrounding me.
How did the Academic Bridging Program prepare you for success in your studies – or in life?
I believe the Bridging program can be compared to what anthropologists refer to as a "liminal space" in the field of anthropology. It serves as a transformative journey where individuals enter and emerge as completely different people. In a way, the Bridging program acts as an initiation ritual, propelling participants into this liminal space of growth and change. It offers a valuable opportunity for personal transformation, shaping individuals into new and evolved versions of themselves.
Would you recommend the Academic Bridging Program, and if so, why?
Absolutely, especially for individuals in circumstances similar to mine, who have come to this country seeking to create a new life. The Bridging Program serves as an ideal starting point for initiating positive change.
What career paths are you considering for the future?
I am committed to continuing my art practice as it has always been my chosen path. Art is my true passion, and I believe it is the avenue through which I can express myself most authentically.
View Masoud Riyazati’s portfolio on Instagram and see more of his work on the Gallery 44 website. Learn about Masoud’s Artist Residency on the Hart House website, including the three-day darkroom technique courses he will be offering in October 2023 and February 2024.
Photos by Sunny Kooner.
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