New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 28 November 2017 20:41

My Life in a Suitcase

Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran

I was standing in front of my suitcase and thought about what I had packed into it. I had one suitcase for my documents and their certified translations, as well as one suitcase for my clothes and other personal belongings.

Two suitcases for a person who wanted to move to another country and pursue Ph.D. studies. A person who had lived 32 years in her home country and had a history in that place. 

I assumed that the most important things that I could carry with me were the documents that spoke to my education and work history.  

All the important documents that I gathered in my life were in a suitcase. They included my certificates, recommendation letters, writing samples, medical documents, especially those of my daughter, and the identity documents of my three-member-family: my husband, my daughter, and I. 

I also had to pack up the university documents as I wanted to pursue my study and they were required in order to register in the program. So I put my Master's and Bachelor's degrees as well as my transcripts in the suitcase. 

I prepared all the documents and certified translations of my bank accounts, even going as far as including the deed to my apartment in Tehran. 

With all of my documents piled into in one suitcase, the thought struck me: “Is this really all I have gained in my life?”

How could I prove myself to the people who neither know me nor my country? 

Would Canada recognize my documents?

So I packed everything and moved to Canada.

Foreign credentials

Following registration, the start of the program revealed that most of the newly admitted Ph.D. students would be required to enroll in some of the foundational courses from the Master's program due to their foreign credentials. The move signified that their foreign Master's degrees were not fully recognized.

The documents that illustrated what I had been doing professionally were not useful at all either. After surfing the Internet and talking to many people who had been living in Canada for many years, I learned that without “Canadian work experience” it would be difficult to find a good job. 

So none of my documents were really useful. No one knew me, the universities that I got my degrees from, and the companies that I had worked for. So what was the point of carrying all these documents? 

It was a heart-breaking moment. I moved to Canada in the hopes of being able to do what I was good at, could do well and was the dream of all my life, but Canada did not recognize my credentials. 

The surprising part of the story was that the government had assessed and accepted me based on these same documents. The university had accepted that I studied for at least 17 years – but still did not give me full credit for Master"s degree. The job market discounted my credentials even further.

The Canadian job market cared not about what I had done but what I was going to do in Canada. It seemed to me that Canada needed talented and hardworking people and granted them admission to Canada under different visa programs based on their achievements in their home country. But after moving in, Canada wanted to educate them based on the skills that were needed in the country, and making them ready for their own job market. 

Starting afresh

It was at this moment that I realized that all I had to bring to Canada was a prepared me: A person who knew what was waiting for her in this moving process, a person who was ready to embrace the new situation and ready to learn new things, a person who wished to start afresh as she contemplated that a brighter future would eventually come, and a person who did not become disappointed from the hardships along the way. 

After I moved to Canada and witnessed the reality, I decided not to rely too much on my achievements and experiences in Iran. I decided to be eager to learn new things and routines in the hope that hard work will eventually pay off.

I was ready to make a new beginning without my documents and titles, so I could write a new life story.

This piece is part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.


Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.

Published in Commentary

Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran

I am among the thousands of folks waiting in queue immigrate to Canada. This wish was triggered after my previous experience of having lived in Canada as an international student.

I moved to Canada in August 2015 with a student visa. I decided to pursue my PhD in economics as I was aware of the exceptional educational system in Canada. But it was not all. 

Good feeling about Canada 

Many people ask me why I am still considering immigrating to Canada, as my initial 5 month stay consisted of studying for one semester before withdrawing from the program and then returning to Iran. After all the disappointments that I felt and all the failures that I encountered, they wonder why I want to return to Canada, this time as a permanent resident. 

My answer to this question is simple. I feel good about Canada. I think this country can give me the opportunity to live and work in a more developed environment. Besides, I get the chance to meet people from different cultures which is very attractive for me. 

I also think my daughter can have a brighter and safer future in Canada because of the advanced educational system in the country. Canada offers more opportunities and better environment for children to grow and gain the skills that make them better prepared to lead a fruitful life. 

Big decision after a hard time in life 

My five months of stay in Canada as an international student was not easy. It was filled with many new experiences, the good and the bad ones, hopes and disappointments and failures and success. But all of them made me a more rational, responsible and powerful person because I had to stay in control of my circumstances and deal with various issues one at a time. Those experiences opened my eyes to a different world and showed me new realities. 

In that new world, I felt like a human who could fail or succeed. A human who lived, worked and struggled with different challenges and was still hopeful about the future. A human who thought better things were on the way and the only thing that helped her to defeat the challenges was her own hard work. A human that was independent, strong and was treated fairly. 

On the other hand, people in Canada were so open to new things, new people or even a new normal. People lived the way they were happy about and at the same time, accepted others the way they were. This was good because it helped me feel welcome in society and be able to participate in my community’s activities. 

In my experience, Canadians think about their society as their own family. In a family every member can live, grow, prosper and become a healthy individual. In this way, everyone feels safe, secure and protected by the family. This is the way Canada works. It allows people to immigrate to Canada, gives them opportunities, and gives them the chance to study and work based on their abilities. At the end, Canada accepts them in the society and protects them legally in this society. 

Exploring the world 

For me, immigration means a lifelong learning, starting fresh, spending time to get familiar with the new living and working environment, and networking with new people to get a good job. That is what I like about life. Immigration is like having the chance of living a new life in a new environment and that is so exciting. 

I always loved to live in Canada to get the chance of meeting new people with new cultures because I am an adventurous person. I was always curious about how the society in a multicultural country like Canada works and how it educates people to be respectful of others. 

Besides, exploring the world and experiencing new things is what I like the most. I think there is always more to see in the world, more to experience and more to have. There are also many risks, challenges, and setbacks. But at the end of the day, persistence pays off and smart hard work leads to success. 

In fact, the curiosity and adventurous characteristics that led me to the world of journalism, is now encouraging me to pursue my wish to immigrate to Canada and hopefully make the most out of my life. I plan to succeed.

This piece is the third part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.


Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.

Published in Commentary

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) will double the number of refugee students it will sponsor in the coming academic year, which is good news for Syrian refugees seeking post-secondary education in Canada.

Michelle Manks, manager of the Student Refugee Program and Campus Engagement at WUSC says the number has been raised to accommodate students affected by the Syrian crisis.

“Each year, we usually sponsor about 80 students, but next year we are expecting over 160 students. Half of them will be coming from Middle East,” she says.

One of the challenges in bringing Syrian refugees into the Canadian school system is that their academic strengths and needs are not the same. A majority of refugees have been living in camps for decades or were born in camps, whereas most Syrian students have been displaced more recently and as such have often spent more years in school.    

Reem Alhaj, a WUSC sponsored student at York University in Toronto, feels fortunate that she was accepted into the program after escaping Syria six years ago, while her brother was trapped by the regime forces. 

“I wanted to get my education. I have all my documents with me and my English is good,” she says, commenting on why she was accepted to the program.

Universities’ collaboration with WUSC

WUSC is a non-profit agency with headquarters in Ottawa that partners with dozens of Canadian universities and colleges. It has sponsored over 1,500 refugee students since 1978 from refugee camps all over the world. 

Since 2010, it has worked with camps in Jordan and Lebanon, taking in students from Iraq, Palestine, Sudan and Somalia. It plans to target asylum-seekers in Malaysia and expand its services for Syrian students over the next few years.

“Syrian nationals are not from camps necessarily, because they are largely in urban contexts,” Manks clarifies.

In response to the Syrian displacement, York University has agreed to contribute its own resources to sponsor an additional five WUSC refugee students starting in September 2016.

"Next year we are expecting over 160 students. Half of them will be coming from Middle East."

“It is a significant increase and likely to match the historic commitment of [the] University of British Colombia,” says Don Dippo, faculty member and local adviser to the WUSC committee at York University.

At Ryerson University, these students are called “WUSC Scholars” says Abu Arif, coordinator for international student support at Ryerson University. 

“We do not lower our academic standard to accept the students because if we do that they won't be successful here,” says Arif.

Every year, Ryerson University absorbs one or two WUSC sponsored students. Next year it plans to accept more students from Syria. 

“It depends on how much levy we have in our funds. It has to make financial sense,” he adds.

Syrian students more prepared for higher education

After the finalization of applications, these students are invited to take a language test — either in English or French — and an interview to gauge their strengths.

“People studying in universities, for instance living in Damascus, are more prepared to begin studies here,” says Dippo.

In terms of language, it’s relatively tough for Syrian students who followed Arabic language curriculum to transition to school in Canada, but easier for students coming from camps that teach English or French. 

“We do not lower our academic standard to accept the students."

For Syrians coming from an urban background, the transition process for them is often less jarring since they likely have attended school more recently and might already have university experiences.

In addition to upholding tough academic standards, the program does not have much leniency when it comes to missing documentation such as transcripts.

“Unfortunately, we are not able to accept students who don’t have documents. It’s the requirement of institutions,” added Manks.

Support for students upon arrival

Universities and colleges have their own structures to provide academic support for arriving refugees. Faculty members and student committees often help them throughout their transition to Canada, meeting them at the airport and assisting them during their settlement period both on and off the campus.

“We also offer various programming and workshops for the students’ transition period,” says Arif.

This scholarship is unique in the sense that these students come in as permanent residents who are allowed to work in Canada or opt for student loans. This is important for those who hope to send money back to their families. Other international students require work visas to earn money in Canada and often return home after completing their studies.

While these refugee students do receive significant support, many still face challenges settling down at the institutions and in a new country.

For Syrians coming from an urban background, the transition process for them is often less jarring.

After arriving in Canada in August 2014, Alhaj appreciated the WUSC team and says that they made her feel accepted; however, her fellow students struggled to understand her experiences. 

“They have over-generalized the diverse crisis of Syria,” she says.

“I had to face classification. I had lots of sympathetic responses, which are sometimes humiliating and lack empathy,” Alhaj says.

Now in Canada without her family, Alhaj is working towards self-healing and is motivated to become involved in international affairs. Her dream is to become a member of a decision making body that can help her people back in Syria.

"I will try to do something about it. Syrians have suffered and fought too much for democracy,” she concludes. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 23:41

Students Lead Initiatives to Help Syrians

by Florence Hwang in Regina

When the pledge was announced to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, many Canadians wanted to help — university students being no exception.

Using their resourcefulness and skills, students across the country have come up with tangible ways to help the new immigrants settle into their lives.

This ranges from handling legal paperwork, to collecting cutlery sets, to simply befriending incoming refugees.

More than just paperwork

In September, Rosa Stall, a third-year law student at Queen’s University, read an Ottawa Citizen article about how University of Ottawa law students started the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program. In this program, they worked with local lawyers to help people who were interested in helping out privately sponsored refugees.

In less than a month, that program attracted 140 volunteer lawyers, reported the Citizen.

Inspired by this initiative, Stall reached out to her classmates Jess Spindler, Kaisha Thompson and Lauren Wilson to set up something similar in Kingston.

So far, the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program has met with local lawyers and helped different community groups resettle the refugees in Canada. This program provides training to lawyers and students regarding immigration law to help with the refugees’ paperwork.

In less than a month, that program attracted 140 volunteer lawyers.

The program has now grown to connect other Syrian refugee-related efforts through a portal hosted on their website.

Through their online fundraising campaign, the group has raised $1,896 to help Queen’s University professors sponsor a refugee themselves. They have also raised $550 offline and hosted a cutlery campaign where people had to collect stickers to redeem cutlery sets that would be donated to immigrants.

“Every single little bit helps, whether it’s taking somebody to the library or giving them cutlery or donating a lamp or something,” says Wilson.

Discovering similarities with newcomers

Thompson says this experience has been very eye-opening for her. She remarked that the refugee the professors sponsored was non-religious and spoke English, which surprised her as many may think Syrian refugees are Muslim and only speak Arabic.

“I think that the conception that we have of Syrian refugees of them being different than us is actually a false construction,” she says.

Thompson adds, “We’ve been learning a lot about the struggles that he [the sponsored refugee] faces, the political challenges that Syria is enduring currently. We are working towards creating a positive welcoming space for them in Canada and being an example to others who I think feel confused based on some of the media articles and the way that their issues are being portrayed.”

Efforts at other universities around Canada

One of the volunteer students with the Ryerson University Lifeline Syrian Challenge is Radwan Al-Nachawati, who speaks Arabic. This third-year marketing student, who is a Muslim of Syrian descent, is an Arabic interpreter for one of the newly arrived families.

When he found out about the Syrian crisis, he felt helpless, so he was glad to hear he had an opportunity to help through his school.

“It was definitely an uplifting feeling because it gave me a chance to help,” says Al-Nachawati, who is also the President of the Ryerson Muslims Association. 

Other students used their skills and training to help the Syrian refugees; for example. finance majors helped immigrants open a bank account and nursing students helped them set up their health cards.

He was glad to hear he had an opportunity to help through his school.

Another Ryerson student who felt moved to help out is Jaimie Dufresne. Dufresne is part of a sponsorship team that’s helping one family settle in Toronto. She remembers how emotional one of the three sons, who had arrived earlier in Canada, was when he was reunited with his family.

“I’m sure it must have been traumatic because they really trying to stay together. It was hard for them to be apart from him for so long,” says Dufresne, who is a PhD student in molecular science. 

Although Dufrese didn’t have much in the way of monetary funds to donate to incoming refugees, she noted she had time and skills to offer.

“It made me less hopeless about it. It made feel really good to be able to do something about it,” Dufresne says.

For the students, by the students

Concordia University’s Syrian Student Association initially helped raise funds for basic needs like clothing, food, housing, tutoring language and paperwork.

But they wanted to do more. That’s why Kinan Swaid, president of the Association, wants to build a resource centre dedicated to help all refugees that’s a stand-alone organization that is affiliated with the university.

The third-year mechanical engineering student notes that the only way for the centre to continue on is for it to start getting funding from the students, saying that it’s a service for and by the students.

Swaid, who is Syrian, says this refugee centre would ideally offer assistance to address psychological, medical, housing, education, career and financial needs immigrants may need.

The students will be able to vote at a referendum on whether they want to support this resource centre in the upcoming student by-election in March. The centre, if it goes through, will be funded by students based on their course load credits. 

 If the centre gets the green lights from the students, Swaid thinks the centre could be built by next September. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

On Tuesday, April 7th, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the Government’s intention to expand eligibility for Canada Student Grants for students from low- and middle-income families enrolled in short-duration educational programs. He was joined by James Moore, Minister of Industry, and Andrew Saxton, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and Member of Parliament for North Vancouver.

Salam Toronto

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Published in Education

VANCOUVER - The World Sikh Organization of Canada has successfully assisted a Sikh student barred from wearing his kirpan into the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Ishwer Singh Basra, an amritdhari (initiated) Sikh, was scheduled to write the LSAT on September 27, 2014.  Upon arriving at the test centre in Burnaby BC, Ishwer Singh’s kirpan was spotted by a proctor.  Despite being explained its significance, the proctor said the kirpan would not be permitted in the test centre.  The proctor then proceeded to call the Law Society Admission Council (LSAC), the body that administers the LSAT, and said that there was a student carrying a “knife” and insisting it was for religious purposes.  After a brief phone call, the proctor reiterated to Ishwer Singh that his “knife” would not be allowed.

Ishwer Singh was given the option of either removing the kirpan and being allowed to write the test or forfeiting the exam and writing another day in which he would once again be told to remove his kirpan.

The Link

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Published in Education

 THE World Sikh Organization of Canada has successfully assisted a Sikh student barred from wearing his kirpan into the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Ishwer Singh Basra, an amritdhari (initiated) Sikh, was scheduled to write the LSAT on September 27, 2014.  Upon arriving at the test centre in Burnaby, Ishwer Singh’s kirpan was spotted by […]

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

Washington: A former Indian student of University of Washington has been deported after he was convicted of cyberstalking for making threats on social media to carry out a campus shooting, authorities announced. Keshav Mukund Bhide, 24, departed on an international flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Dec 24 under the watch of special agents, according to […]

The Weekly Voice

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Published in India

VANCOUVER —Aaron Sihota has made it his mission to provide a voice for pharmacy students when it comes to important healthcare issues.

Throughout his four years at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, he has advocated tirelessly for the student perspective both within the university and in the community at large.

The Link

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Published in India

 


OTTAWA—Ti-Anna Wang didn’t really understand her father. His endless efforts to push China toward democracy sent him around the world, and his political activism put...

Epoch Times

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Published in International
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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
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Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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