The new kid: How Angelina Zhao made friends, formed new interests, and got good at networking

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Contributed by Sonia Verma

DeGroote graduand and recent KPMG hire Angelina Zhao decided to treat getting involved as a personal challenge. She credits the relationships she formed and the skills she learned at Mac with helping her figure out her path.


When Angelina Zhao started her first year at the DeGroote School of Business, she was almost painfully shy. She was also a new international student and didn’t know a soul. She felt like an outsider.

By her third year, she was on the executive of three student organizations — including the DeGroote Accounting Association and DeGroote Women in Business — and was a member of a few others.

She also volunteered with the Canadian Association for Girls in Science, and learned to organize events and co-ordinate with high-profile speakers.

Zhao decided to treat getting involved as a personal challenge.

“I went to a networking night held by the DeGroote Accounting Association and I just stood there watching people chatting and making new friends,” she recalls. “I was impressed. Networking is not like math or physics — you can’t just study or memorize information.”

“I looked at them as role models and started trying to improve myself,” she continues. “I’d go to those events and try to participate. I’d sit with different people and learn from them. I’d try to see what the difference was between me and them and try to fill that gap.”

Zhao made friends. She formed new interests, and got good at networking. She learned to manage her time and balance academics with all her extracurricular activities. And she passed along everything she learned to students who were just starting out.

As a member of McMaster’s Chinese Students’ Association, Zhao made a point of telling younger students about her experiences. “I try to encourage them to step out of their comfort zone,” she says. “I tell them I was in their situation, and I don’t want them to feel like they are the only ones who felt that way.”

Now, as she graduates with an Honours BCom degree and moves on to an accounting job with KPMG, Zhao credits the relationships she formed and the skills she learned at Mac with helping her figure out her path.

“When I look back to myself those four years, I really appreciate it,” she says. “I’m an international student. I wasn’t familiar with the culture, and I am really shy. But my experience at Mac pushed me a little bit to reach out more, to build relationships.”

Any words for other shy, new students?

“It’s normal to feel uncertainty. But just take one step. And then take one more. Look at where you want to be, and step by step, you will reach it.”

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