by Tharsy Selvanantham, International Student Advisor, UOIT (formerly Ryerson University), Emma Jankowski, International Student Advisor, Ryerson University and Kittie Dong, 4th year Ryerson Accounting Student and 2018 Tax Volunteer Coordinator
Dread. Apathy. Dismay. Confusion. These are some feelings that may surface when tax season rolls around each year. We moan and groan and fumble about getting our T4s, rental receipts and previous Notice of Assessments together as we prepare for yet another round of administrative mundanity. Filing your taxes definitely has a bad rap and one that is undeserved, at least in our opinion. We are here to tell you (and hopefully, convince you!) that filing taxes can be something much more than a government obligation – it can be a beautiful opportunity within Student Affairs for student-to-student support through volunteerism, intercultural learning and campus engagement.
International students are faced with the requirement to file their taxes in Canada, which can be daunting if they do not know what to do. The uncertainty and fear of the unknown that international students might feel when it comes to tax filing fueled International Student Support (ISS) to respond. In our eighth year, the International Student Support Tax Clinics have seen more demand than ever for support and we are pleased to bring the clinic back year after year.
ISS collaborates with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP). This program empowers community organizations to host free tax preparation clinics and train volunteers to complete income tax and benefit returns for eligible individuals.
One of the unique components of our tax clinic at ISS is our objective. While we do want international students to learn why we file taxes and how to do so, what we are really aiming to support is an initiative that is informed by a students-supporting-students philosophy. We are able to do this through our partnership with Ryerson’s Accounting & Finance program at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM). Each year, we send a call-out to upper year undergraduate Accounting & Finance students and invite them to apply to volunteer as a tax preparer at our clinic. We also engage one student who has previously volunteered at our tax clinic to act as the Tax Volunteer Coordinator. This student plays a significant role in the planning, operations and execution of the tax clinics.
In 2018, our Tax Volunteer Coordinator was Kittie Dong, a driven and self-motivated third year Accounting student who is part of the Top 200 Leadership program at TRSM. We must confess – before this year, we did not think that it was possible to get excited about taxes – but Kittie showed us otherwise! With Kittie’s passion and zest for all things tax, we knew that our tax clinics could not be in better hands. This is what Kittie had to say about her experience at the ISS tax clinic:
My involvement with the ISS Tax Program began in 2016 when I served as a Volunteer Tax Preparer. With passion for volunteerism, I was very eager to contribute to the campus community in a role where I can provide valuable assistance to others. As an Accounting student, the opportunity to combine my dedication to volunteerism and passion for Accounting studies in one experience was definitely a bonus! Over the years I have prepared personal taxes on behalf of individuals in the Ryerson community, it was most memorable to see the smiles on international students’ faces as they thanked us for our time and assistance.
This year, I was very grateful for the opportunity to serve the Ryerson community as the Tax Volunteer Coordinator. With a team of 34 volunteers, I am proud of what we have accomplished together for Ryerson’s international community. For volunteers, taking part in the ISS Tax Clinic is a very rewarding experience. Students have the opportunity to develop their professional skill set and learn how to prepare and file personal taxes. Accounting students in particular can apply the knowledge and technical skills gained from their studies and gain relevant professional experience. Volunteers also have the opportunity to meet new people and expand their network with individuals that share the same passion, whether it may be for volunteerism, accounting or taxation.
From the recruitment process to wrapping up the final tax clinic, it was a wonderful experience seeing the tax clinics come together. It could not have been done without a team of generous volunteers contributing their time and efforts. From my experience as a Tax Preparer to the Tax Volunteer Coordinator position, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the community from a leadership perspective and broaden my professional network while creating lasting relationships.
I truly value the skills and experience that I have gained from the wonderful opportunity provided by Ryerson ISS. The Tax Clinics program is beneficial for both the campus community and volunteers. I highly encourage international students to utilize the ISS Tax Clinics offered annually at Ryerson and for interested Accounting & Finance students to apply to become a volunteer!
Kittie highlights service learning, a high impact practice that has positive correlation to student learning and retention. She also brings up the importance of professional development by applying classroom learning to real life situations, which is so valuable for students.
From a professional staff perspective, one of the most rewarding things we witnessed at the tax clinics were new friendships in bloom and students connecting across differences and similarities. This program provides the opportunity for participants, whether volunteer tax preparers or international students, to interact with individuals who may have life experiences that are quite different from their own. The tax volunteers have the opportunity to interact with students who they may have not otherwise had the opportunity to meet and vice versa. At times, it was like it was a microcosm of intercultural learning and sharing disguised as a tax clinic. We saw international students and tax volunteers pulling up Google maps to show each other where they were from, taking a stab at words or phrases in another language and talking about – what else – their favourite foods and places to eat in the city.
The ISS Tax Clinics provides a unique opportunity for student engagement on campus through an exceptional experience where students are supported and encouraged to take advantage of this valuable co-curricular opportunity. In addition to providing students with the necessary skills to enhance their professional development for today’s knowledge economy, the tax clinics allow students to build a stronger sense of community, engage in international education and build relationships through volunteerism. We are eternally grateful to all of the student volunteers in the Accounting & Finance program, as well as the TRSM staff who promote this opportunity year after year. Campus partnerships and student leadership are essential to the creation and continuation of the Ryerson ISS Tax Clinics.
Ryerson ISS Tax Clinics recruit a number of upper year Accounting & Finance students on a seasonal basis. For further information, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org