From newcomer student to CEO: An interview with Peter Han
By Maria Montemayor
Posted on July 26, 2021
Peter Han was an ‘A’ student when he was in China, but when he immigrated to Canada, he faced an unexpected barrier to success. While he was confident in high school math and science, English was another story.
“English was quite challenging for me because I didn’t really like it that much. It was a second language for me. So, I took ESL [English as a Second Language],” Han told The Newcomer.
For university admittance, Han had to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). He spent time doing research and asking his counsellor questions. In addition to studying for the TOEFL, he worked on improving his grades to raise his grade point average (GPA).
Han was accepted into the University of Toronto as an engineering student. In his program, he encountered a new set of problems. The schedule was extremely hectic for him, with the lessons going at a rapid pace, and he had to take required courses that were unfamiliar to him. It made Han re-evaluate his decision to stay on the engineering path. During his second year of university, he changed his major to Applied Statistics.
“[In engineering,] there was a lot of material science [and] computer science, which I really didn’t enjoy much. I was not good at it. It made me think that I really shouldn’t do engineering. […] If I stayed in engineering, I figured it would become more stressful and challenging for me because we had to meet requirements, take all of the courses, and get good grades. And it would be more challenging in year two, three, and four. I felt like this was not the life I wanted.”
Han entered a data competition where he led a team to represent the University of Toronto. His team had to use data to create a business model. At the competition, Han encountered many intelligent young adults who inspired him to start a tutoring business for university students.
After Han graduated from the University of Toronto, he started his tutoring company, Bluekey Education, which was challenging in the beginning. He had to work from a small office and meet the needs of a growing number of students. He also had to figure out how to copy his company’s tutoring model across universities, to ensure that the content was always the same. Now, his business has expanded to reach thousands of college and university students in Canada, both in person and virtually.
Looking back on his undergraduate experience, Han believes that his time management skills and willingness to take risks played a larger role in his success than the specific courses he studied, or even the degree he earned. The degree that he ended up pursuing was one that he was actually interested in. Students should be open to changing their majors if they feel more passionately about other subjects and courses.
“It doesn’t really matter what you graduate with. It’s about how you manage your time, whether you have more experience with creating resumes and whether you have other achievements.”
Han has some advice for newcomer students who are entrepreneurial-minded and would like to start a business in Canada:
“Most start-ups will die within the first year or second year. When you try a start-up, you have to be persistent and have confidence in yourself, in your mindset, and in your team. You’re going to have a lot of challenges because nobody is perfect. I think that students should try while they’re young, because they have the chance to lose. When you’re young, you can always start anew.”
If students are unsure about starting their own business—if they have the support and means to start one—they should take a chance because whether they succeed or not, they will at least be able to learn from the experience. Starting a business can be a rewarding experience, even if it comes with challenges. Han suggests working for a corporation first.
“The ideal stage to do a start-up is when you work in a corporation for maybe a few years, learn the basic rules and structures of business, and then maybe you do a start-up. It will give you a lot of experience which [will prevent you from being] stuck on those barriers.”
You can find out more about Peter Han and his tutoring company, Bluekey Education, at https://bluekeyedu.com/.