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
Sunday, 17 September 2017 11:11

A Game with No Winner

Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran

“Canada needs you!”  This is a sentiment I heard over and over while I was in Canada. I came to Canada with my husband and daughter, in August 2015, on a student visa to pursue my Ph.D. in economics. 

I still pursue that dream of coming to Canada, but meanwhile, things have gone awry. 

Our bank account manager in Ottawa was the first to utter these words to me: “Canada needs you! You are young, talented, educated and have work experience in economics and engineering, (my husband’s field) both of which are needed in Canada.” 

Then my daughter’s teacher told us the same thing, adding that “Canada is the place that protects talented people”. In her opinion, we were among the most talented. 

The backstory 

I was a good student and had more than 10 years of work experience in business journalism. As a result, I was offered multiple offers of admission to a number of universities in Canada, Germany, the United States and Great Britain. 

So, we started to think about our options as a family and we came to a final decision: Canada. A North American and English-speaking country with natural beauty, peaceful policies, and high educational standards, as well as welcoming immigration laws; Canada we assumed would be an ideal destination for our family. 

Funding opportunities for international students were also an important factor, as this would help me focus on my studies and research interests. 

With this in mind, I reached out to the head of the department for more information. An email response pointed me towards a partial scholarship through the university's "Teaching Assistantship".

But he also suggested that there were many external funding opportunities available, scholarships that I could apply for once I got to Canada. My good educational background meant I had a good chance of securing these scholarships, he said. 

So, we packed up. 

Running out of options 

I was a good student in Canada. I attended all my classes, read all the books that were suggested and got good grades. Simultaneously, I tried to apply for scholarships from organizations outside the university. But there was a problem. Most scholarships were given to international students who had lived for more than 12 months in the city that housed the university. As such, I did not qualify. 

Other scholarships were given to students who had started working on their thesis, provided that the thesis proposals were approved by funding organizations and met their objectives. I did not fit this category either. 

It took almost 5 months for me to understand that the reality was far from what we had anticipated.

Besides, the amount of external funding for international students was very low. If I won one of them, I could not access other scholarships. 

I explained my situation to the head of the department. He told me: “You are a perfect student, but the university cannot do anything about it.” That’s it! 

I completed the first semester with an “A” in every course. I went to the head of the department and told him that I could not complete my studies without funding. I told him “money matters for me”, but I heard the same answer, “There are no other options for you.” 

It took almost 5 months for me to understand that the reality was far from what we had anticipated. 

I had come to Canada to get a Ph.D., become a researcher and a productive person in society. But I made the mistake of making a decision based on incomplete and, sadly, inaccurate information about funding available to international students. I trusted the information that was given to me and did not try to verify before moving to Canada. 

I made up my mind. I did not want to be a “not-so-good” student, “not-so-good” mother, “not-so-good” provider and “not-so-good” person, who made a mistake but did not want to admit it. 

I had just accepted at face value a possibility that came into my life because I was afraid to review, re-think or even return to where everything had started. 

As a result, I dropped out of school and flew back home to Iran. 

Costs on all sides 

It was a hard time in my life. I was in the middle of a journey that was potentially leading my family and me to nowhere. 

When we were on the flight back home, I was thinking about all the things that had happened to my family, all the challenges that we had faced, and all the decisions that we had made. 

I thought about what I lost when I left school. The economic costs of this decision and the emotional suffering was tremendous. I also thought about the costs that the university endured: the cost of giving me a partial scholarship, the cost of losing someone who could have become a good researcher, and the cost of counting on someone and planning for her to be an academic, but losing her so soon. 

At the time, I thought to myself, “These five months of my life were like a game with no winner, a lose-lose game”. 

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

Coming up next: What I Did Not Know About Communication and Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada


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 Education
Friday, 15 September 2017 14:56

Internships Don’t Start Here

By: Lu Xu in Halifax

Gaining overseas work experience while attending university may sound appealing, but some Dalhousie University international students say they’re having trouble completing this mandatory part of their school program because they can’t find a job here in Canada. 

Yuxi Tang is one of them. 

After months of fruitless job hunting, Tang is giving herself a few more weeks to find work. All of her friends have already left for China, but she’s still hoping to find a local co-op placement—a compulsory part of her Bachelor degree in commerce. 

“Disappointment is definitely there. But it’s also normal that I haven’t found anything as there are a lot of us [who haven’t found work],” Tang says, in an interview conducted in Chinese. 

Dalhousie is one of the few universities that has mandatory co-op requirements in its commerce program. In order to graduate, students have to complete three work terms, typically in their second and third years. But the language barrier for international students can make finding local work placements difficult. In frustration, some students leave the country or transfer to other schools without compulsory work terms—like Saint Mary’s University—to finish their degrees. 

Originally from Shanghai, Tang came to Halifax two years ago to study commerce. The co-op system was actually a valuable factor in how she chose her program. By the time she graduated, Tang thought she’d have three terms of overseas work experience. More importantly, she came here with the expectation that her co-op job would have already been pre-arranged by Dal. 

A degree with three creditable work terms is very uncommon where Tang comes from. Prospective students often rely on secondary sources and special agencies to help them apply to foreign universities and understand how the co-op programs work. Yu Tian, another student in the same commerce program with Tang, says the agency she consulted also told her Dal would help find her an internship. The reality is students are often on their own. 

According to Janet Bryson, spokesperson for Dalhousie, the university’s faculty of management offers a career services centre with specific supports for international students—such as targeted workshops and appointments with recruitment specialists. 

The school’s career development centre is also available to students looking for jobs. 

“From drop-in peer advising and career counselling to online services and resources, the [career centre] offers many services aimed at helping students develop their skills and identify their ideal job and career paths,” writes Bryson in an email. 

But many international students expect more focused help than resume and cover letter writing. 

“I wish that the university could tell us what kind of jobs have lower language requirement or companies that tend to hire international students in general,” says Jinze Bi, a third-year finance student at Dal. 

Even if the international student does speak English well enough, it’s also tough getting past Canadian competition. Tang says there’s no reason for an employer to hire an international student if there’s someone local who’s just as good. 

“You have to be extremely good and outperform the local student to get a job here.” 

The tuition for international students at Dalhousie is around $20,000 a year—roughly double as much as the cost for Canadian students.


Lu Xu, who hails from China, is studying journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax. This article was republished under arrangement with the Coast

Published in Education
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 10:26

Bramptonians Sucking on a Lollipop

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.

Downloading to taxpayers

But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.  

What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.  

If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again.  When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.  

Citizens in the dark

Will $90 million build a university campus?  I highly doubt it.  I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?

Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal.  We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down.  The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie.  The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital.  It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department.  Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services.  This does not bode well for our university.

Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.  

I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.   

So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.  

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Education

 Posters ‘in no way reflect the inclusive, diverse and caring culture of this university,’ says President Cannon     EARLY Tuesday morning, about 40 anti-Muslim posters were found and removed by Campus Security on the University of Calgary’s main campus.

“The University of Calgary is committed to creating a safe and respectful campus for all […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

UNIVERSITY of Alberta student Annika Roren—Scottish and Norwegian in ancestry—was eager to have her long blonde hair bundled into a green turban Tuesday, and learn about the Sikh culture.

Dismayed like the rest of the community about racist posters discovered on campus last week sporting the image of a man in a turban, Roren made a point of attending the “tie-in” event on campus today.-- 

Indo-Canadian Voice

Read Full Article

Published in Top Stories

Commentary by Peter Halpin in Halifax

Atlantic Canada could become a field of dreams for entrepreneurs, immigrants and international students.

And, if we give talented newcomers an incentive to move to the region and stay here, they will help build its economy.

Those themes were heard loud and clear at the June 24 Atlantic Leaders’ Summit on Talent Retention and Entrepreneurism, an event sponsored by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) that attracted 75 business, community, government, student and academic leaders from across the region.

Federal Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, M.P. (Kings-Hants), set the tone in a keynote address that opened the Summit. Minister Brison said entrepreneurial immigrants boost the economy and help address the region’s “terrifying” demographic challenge — too few workers supporting too many retired people.

The starting-over advantage

“Starting over (as immigrants do) is inherently an entrepreneurial experience. Immigrants see opportunities that others don’t.”

The Minister said the growth of the wine industry in Nova Scotia underscores this point. The leading pioneers in Nova Scotia’s wine industry – Hans Jost (founder of Jost Vineyards) and Hanspeter Stutz (founder of Domaine de Grand Pré) - both migrated to Nova Scotia from Europe. Pete Luckett, an immigrant from the United Kingdom and founder of Luckett Vineyards, is also a leader in the sector.

Due in part to the leadership of this trio, the wine business has grown from a fledgling industry into a major success story over the past two decades. Today, Nova Scotia boasts 22 wineries, 70 grape growers who cultivate more than 800 acres of vineyards, seven distinct grape growing districts, and its own white wine appellation, Tidal Bay. 

Despite the benefits that immigrants like Messrs. Luckett, Jost and Stutz have brought to the region, Brison said there is “little upside” to supporting immigration as a politician.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Role for universities

He said universities have an important role to play as “thought leaders” in leading a “culture shift” towards “accepting and welcoming new Canadians.”

The AAU has largely succeeded at persuading stakeholders that universities are the best source of new immigrants to Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s challenge “to lead the culture shift” among Atlantic Canada’s communities and citizens towards greater acceptance of new Canadians is the natural next step for the region’s universities in their support of regional population growth strategies.

Indeed, the AAU’s 2016 Graduate Retention Study showed 75 per cent of international graduates would remain in their province (of study) after graduation if given a choice.

Not that Brison is a pessimist. He says the region’s positive response to the recent influx of Syrian refugees may be a “game-changer.” He also says Atlantic universities are leveraging federal research grants to boost immigration to the region and build “a more innovative Canada.”

For instance, the Tesla lithium battery lab project led by Dr. Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University has assembled a team of 22 researchers, 12 of whom came from other nations.

“These investments in … research are incredibly important to bringing immigrants to Canada.” They “are part of an overall integrated” strategy in which universities play a key role. “Creating a world-class research environment … is critically important to our region.”

The Trudeau government would like to attract more global talent to universities in Atlantic Canada, and keep them here once they graduate.

Ditch "Come from Away"

“Can we take a Team Atlantic Canada approach to attracting foreign students?” The Minister suggested a pan-university mission to China is one idea worth considering.  The current contingent of the nearly 13,000 international students at AAU universities already represents a significant industry.

Less than two weeks after the Summit, Brison was also part of the team of federal cabinet ministers and Atlantic premiers who announced a three-year pilot project under which immigration to the region would increase significantly.  

At that meeting, Minister Brison was blunt in his assessment of current attitudes toward newcomers to the region:  “I have been told repeatedly by people who have moved to Atlantic Canada – that it takes a while to fit in. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Minister Brison quite rightly encourages Atlantic Canadians to ditch the “come-from-away” label often affixed to newcomers to the region.  He went further by saying that, “it’s in our collective interest, economically and socially, to not use terms that reflect a negative view of people who choose to make Atlantic Canada their home. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Building on the success of attracting more and more international students to our campuses; warmly welcoming them to communities across the region; helping place them in co-op education and internships during their studies; introducing them to alumni networks and employers and encouraging them to stay are just a few of the things our universities are doing to help lead the required “culture shift” across Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s call to action to our universities to help lead the creation of a more welcoming environment to newcomers has not gone unheeded.

Peter Halpin is executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU). This comment is the second in our series on immigration to the Atlantic region.

Published in Education

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

When you think of integrating refugees into a society, providing them with access to higher education is often considered less of a priority than food, shelter and medical care.

Some experts believe, though, that it’s especially important both for the economy of the host country and for the long-term recovery of war-torn communities and states.

Over the past many years, the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have displaced a large number of refugees aged 18 to 25 years old. These conflicts have resulted in crackdowns on universities in Egypt, closures of campuses in Yemen and Libya and bombings in Syria and Gaza, all of which have aggravated the plight of the educated youth.  

According to Hans de Wit, professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, higher education for these refugees should not be considered a challenge, but an opportunity.

De Wit explains, “Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees rather than putting them into camps, where they cannot learn, work or do anything.” 

He continues, “The alternative is to use their pre-educational skills and educate them further."

“[With] education, you give them perspective. The trauma is worst when you don’t give them any hope,” he adds. “Many of them have lived in camps for years and the end result is that they cannot go back.”

Refugees as an investment

De Wit’s report, "The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Higher Education," suggests that politically-displaced victims, unlike economically-displaced refugees, are better educated and potentially easier to integrate in the labour market in receiving countries. 

This label applies to the current refugees escaping Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan, many of whom have been forced out of their countries due to violent conflict.

The report, coauthored by research professor and founding director of the Center, Philip Altbach, further suggests that while these refugees are often seen as victims and an economic burden, they offer new talent to the host country in the long run.

“Many media reports feature articulate, English-speaking young professionals from the Middle East expressing their hopes to continue their education or obtain skilled jobs and contribute to European economies,” it states. 

“Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees."

The researchers argue that this is not merely advantageous for the refugees, but for the profile of the university they attend as well. It is a way to internationalize the campus, making it more competitive as a higher education institution.

Nadia Abu-Zahra from the University of Ottawa, says that be they students, researchers or professors, Syrian refugees are often top quality academics, and calls them an “intellectual wealth." 

“Refugees either landing in Norway, Denmark or Canada — whoever gets the highest number of these academics will have an incredible increase in their intellectual wealth” she says.

She insists, “If you are wise you will incur them. Those [academics] fled their home countries, will stay connected to international trends and will not only give back to the host country, but to the world.” 

Importance of the "lost generation"

In another report on Syrian students and scholars living in Lebanon, Keith David Watenpaugh describes them as the “lost generation” of college-age students.  

"The War Follows Them" states that there are up to 70,000 displaced university-age Syrian students in Lebanon. It estimates that only 10,000 of them are enrolled in Lebanese universities. Another 60,000 college-age Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and 70,000 are in Turkey. 

Watenpaugh describes them as the  “lost generation” of college-age students.

Watenpaugh highlights the need for international policy changes regarding higher education and its role in the rebuilding of war-zones. 

He states that “the war will end, but the young people who would be integral in rebuilding the country are being left behind.”

Watenpaugh stresses the need for increased research and aid for these populations to help post-conflict countries rebuild successfully.

“The focus on elementary education is important, but we must ask who the Syrian teachers in the future will be if we neglect the university students now,” says a UNESCO education specialist in the report. 

Rebuilding for the future

In their report, "The Importance of Higher Education for Syrian Refugees," Sansom Milton and Sultan Barakat speak about the challenges of restoration and the importance of higher education for refugees: “The severe toll that regional conflicts have taken on higher education is further compounded by a failure to appreciate the strategic role of the sector in stabilizing and promoting the recovery of war-torn communities and states.”

Their paper further emphasizes the abilities of the younger generation and says, “Higher education, properly supported, is able to act as a catalyst for the recovery of war-torn countries in the Arab world, not only by supplying the skills and knowledge needed to reconstruct shattered economic and physical infrastructure, but also by supporting the restoration of collapsed governance systems and fostering social cohesion.”

Milton and Barakat are advocating for international policy changes regarding higher education.

These changes would involve greater protection of academic institutions in times of war, augmented university networks to promote academic solidarity and more funding to rebuild higher education in the aftermath of conflict. 

This question will be debated by education leaders at the British Council’s Going Global 2016 conference in Cape Town in May.

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

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

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