The Journey from International Student to Faculty Member!

One of our exceptional former clients is now a faculty member at the University of Saskatchewan and sends his medical students to learn with GGP!

When Juan-Nicolás Peña-Sánchez and his wife Silvia Bermedo-Carrasco immigrated to continue their university studies at the University of Saskatchewan, they had only seen Saskatoon on a computer screen. Juan-Nicolás is a physician from Colombia who had a European Master of Public Health and joined our community to get his PhD. As international students, he and his wife were welcomed by community members who connected them to organizations like Global Gathering Place to aid in their settlement journey. 

Juan-Nicolás recalls that GGP helped them to find community and activities outside of the academic context. A few of his fondest memories with GGP are learning how to curl, visiting Waskesiu, and attending Coffee and Conversation. “Coffee and Conversation was a great opportunity to talk to people on non-academic topics. It was wonderful,” Juan-Nicolás said. He also remains very grateful for the opportunity to take our Driving Theory course which prepared him to get his Saskatchewan Driver’s Licence. 

Juan-Nicolás and Silvia never planned to stay in Saskatoon. However, as they moved through their studies, Juan-Nicolás took on more roles at the University, completing not only his Ph.D. but also his post-doctoral research fellowship and eventually being hired as an Associate Professor with the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. Despite the challenges of adapting to a new culture and completing communicating academic work in a secondary language, Juan-Nicolás says that his journey to making Saskatoon his home occurred almost without him noticing. Today, they have been settled in Saskatoon for over 10 years.

In his role as the Director of the Community-Based Learning Experiences (CLE, former CWCLE) Module at the University, Juan-Nicolás facilitates experiential learning opportunities for medical students to become more familiar with the social components of medicine and the work of community-based organizations. “This is an opportunity for students to integrate their attitudes and knowledge about the social determinants of health and learn how to better practice medicine by accessing community resources,” Juan-Nicolás said. These experiential learning opportunities include placements at organizations like Global Gathering Place! The goal is to educate future doctors who could prescribe more than just medicine, making community referrals to organizations like ours when their patients are in need.

Juan-Nicolás’ advice for newly-arrived immigrants is: “Take advantage of every opportunity that comes to your attention. For example, participate in available programs for newcomers to meet people and integrate into your new home. Be proud of yourself, your culture, and be open to other’s cultures.”

“It’s not an easy journey to be away from home but it’s a wonderful process when you look in the rearview mirror,” Juan-Nicolás reflected.


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