A Gift of Global Impact

by Barbara Balfour

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  International  |  A Gift of Global Impact 

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February 22, 1968. A teenage boy steps off the plane in Saskatchewan after a long flight from Hong Kong. He has never seen snow in his life.

Urged to leave the country by family members concerned about escalating political riots — “You have to go, it’s no longer safe for you to stay here,” they tell him — he’s on his way to St. Joseph’s boarding school in Yorkton, where he will spend the next two years alone, and then the next four years after that struggling to pay for university.

The 16-year-old from a humble Chinese family has no one to guide him. And, even though he speaks English, the language barrier, culture shock and harsh winter weather are an unbearable combination. So, too, would be every Christmas and Easter to follow, spent in a deafeningly silent dormitory with instructions to help himself to whatever he could find in the freezer.

It would be just the beginning of real estate tycoon Joseph Leung’s long and difficult journey — one that would see him battle hepatitis A alone in the hospital, work day and night to make tuition payments at the University of Alberta, where he earned a degree in chemical engineering, and face the stomach-wringing stress of never knowing whether he could make it financially through another year. And yet, now 66 years old, Leung says he wouldn’t have changed a thing about his life. 

Canada gave me an opportunity to learn and to earn. And now, it’s my turn to give back.

Joseph Leung

“I was able to pull myself out of that box, to think outside of it and to meet amazing people along the way,” he says in a telephone conversation from Portugal, where he has been conducting business for more than two decades as president and CEO of Marquis Communities Development Inc. and Environcon Systems.

That journey has included earning an MBA in the U.S. with the assistance of a scholarship, raising two daughters with his wife of 28 years, Cindy, and moving to Calgary, which he has called home since 1979, and where he launched his career as part of the design team that worked on Gulf Canada Square.

“Canada gave me an opportunity to learn and to earn. And now, it’s my turn to give back,” Leung says.

Leung and Cindy recently gave a $600,000 gift to the University of Calgary that will provide a full four-year scholarship to international students from China who are in financial need. The gift will also provide $20,000 in scholarship funds annually to students in Calgary who wish to study abroad in China, Macau and Hong Kong. 

“If you have that head start of travelling to another country and getting exposed to different cultures and ways of life, you’re one step closer to working together well in the future,” Leung explains. “As the second largest economic power of the world, there are many business opportunities between China and Canada. This gift will be good for our students, but it’s also good for our future.

“If I had financial support while going through engineering school, I would have done so much better. That’s why I want to dedicate this gift to students with financial needs, so they don’t ever have to worry like I did.”

During Leung’s two-term tenure on UCalgary’s Senate, he sponsored 30 engineering and seven Faculty of Environmental Design students to come to Portugal and work on the Alta de Lisboa, the largest urban renewal project to ever take place in Europe. 

“When the students come back and say, ‘This is what I learned, and this is what I’d like to pursue further in that part of the world,’ I’m happy with that,” Leung says. “Quantifying success is never easy. I know from experience that it might take a few years to see the results or longer.”

For Leung, his first taste of success was when he finally called his parents the day he attended his convocation ceremony at the U of A. “I couldn’t afford to call home. It was $3 a minute back then, and you had to pay for a minimum of three minutes,” he recalls. 

“But, that day, I did call . . .  to say, ‘Dad. I’m graduating!’” 

(L-R): Vice-Provost (International) Janaka Ruwanpura, UCalgary President Elizabeth Cannon and major donors Cindy and Joseph Leung.

(L-R): Vice-Provost (International) Janaka Ruwanpura, UCalgary President Elizabeth Cannon and major donors Cindy and Joseph Leung.

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  International  |  A Gift of Global Impact 

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