North Van students earn scholarships and follow passions abroad

Watching the not-quite-surfable waves lap up on a beach in Mexico, Keivan Hirji finds himself thinking of his North Vancouver home. And in her North Vancouver home, Milo Coulthard  finds herself thinking of her upcoming commute from Lynn Valley to Denmark.

The two North Shore residents are among 50 B.C. students set to study abroad with the help of the Premier’s International Scholarships.

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Hirji, 27, is pursuing a master’s degree in global business. He talks in reverential tones about studying at the University of Glasgow where he walked in the footsteps of economist Adam Smith amid the school’s Hogwartsian architecture.

“It feels older than Europe,” Hirji says.

Between golf and whisky, Hirji was in Scotland during the unprecedented acrimony of the Brexit campaign as well as the precedented acrimony of the Rangers vs. Celtic football rivalry.

Divided by culture and united by geography, the club’s fans can make the streets dangerous on game day, Hirji says. He recalls two packs of opposing boosters about to pass each other with a minimum of discussion until one fan elected to say something very unkind about the Queen.

“It’s a rough town,” Hirji remarks. “A bar fight will just erupt.”

Knowing which religious denomination supports which football team may not seem strictly relevant to global business. But for a business consultant who aspires to know a customer better than they know themselves, the ability to appreciate and understand the world where they live is paramount.

North Vancouver resident Keivan Hirji swings by a pop-up street food market while studying at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. - photo supplied

Hirji also studied supply chain management while walking the grounds of a fair trade farm and getting a first-hand look at silkworm cocoons in Bangkok.

“It really teaches you how to not just adapt but to integrate into a society,” he says of the program.

About 4,000 kilometres north of Hirji, Coulthard is preparing to move from Kwantlen Polytechnic University to VIA University in Denmark. It’s a long distance, both literally and figuratively, from where she started.

After graduating from Argyle Secondary, Coulthard was working toward a career in social work when she found herself in what she calls a “creative gap.” Courses in race, gender and social justice were interesting, but the most fulfilling part of Coulthard’s day was planning the outfit she would wear to class. “I realized that my passions where shifting,” she says.

Although in some ways, Coulthard’s passions were just shifting back. Her sister studied at Emily Carr, her mother is artistic and her father spent 25 years as a graphic designer for WorksafeBC. “There was definitely that family support to switch my degree. And I did.”

And while social work and fashion may not seem to have much in common, Coulthard found her previous studies shifted her approach to design. She wants to be an inclusive designer, she explains, creating a variety of clothes for different bodies while focusing on ethical sourcing and sustainable materials.

“I’m hoping to take some sustainable knowledge and anything I learned in Denmark and just apply it to North Vancouver fashion,” she says.

As Hirji prepares for his final semester studying at the energy and environment division at the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C., he reflects on how far he’s come.

His mother, whom he describes as a “totally outside the box” thinker, ran a perfume shop on Robson Street after fleeing Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin.

His father, after growing up in Nairobi, came to Canada with $20 in his pocket and eventually formed his own travel agency.

His mother was creative. His father was pragmatic. But on at least one subject, they were in complete agreement.

“My parents always stressed that education is something no one can ever take away from you,” he says.

Economies shift, governments topple, but knowledge remains.

“As a first-generation Canadian, we really stand on the shoulders of our parents,” he says.

The Premier’s scholarships, generally valued at between $6,000 and $10,000, are funded by a $17-million endowment established by the province for international education.

“We all benefit from the diverse knowledge and cultural experiences these students will bring back to enrich B.C.’s post-secondary institutions, workplaces and communities,” Premier John Horgan stated in a release.

The scholarships are administered by the Irving K. Barber BC Scholarship Society.

To learn more about the program or to apply, visit


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