A Snippet of a Refugee’s Journey to Stability and Normalcy
By: Shahed Al Asmi - Former Syrian refugee and UofT Mississauga student
The journey of keeping up with the changes to my educational routes has been amazingly difficult, yet it has sharpened my personality more than I thought it would. Through stories, we connect and learn, so let me tell you my story.
When my family decided to leave Syria in 2012, I was in grade 8. My teachers always noticed my strong desire and eagerness to learn, and I was promised a bright future. But when the unexpected happened, I had to embrace it. I left the country and resided in another country in the Middle East alongside my family to start grade 9. It was a different culture, different dialect, different environment. It was simply not my home. The struggle with this sudden change was reflected on my learning process as well as my grades.
Now, if you take a moment to think, you may ask, why haven’t I mentioned anything else besides my education? I’ll tell you it’s due to the lack of resources. My only focus was on my education and the goals I spent years building because at the time, those were what I had.
When I finished my secondary school education and was admitted into the school of Pharmacy at Suez Canal University in Egypt, my family received a resettlement opportunity to Canada. Accepting the opportunity was the only sustainable solution that my family had to guarantee a better, safer future for my siblings and me.
With every move we take in life, we are often bombarded with struggles and maybe losses, it’s normal. However, I did not expect to lose the educational stability, the linear path to post-secondary education than a career, that I worked for. The educational system in Canada placed me in grade 10 classes in Canadian high schools after being admitted to university in the country I used to reside. At the time, I received the decision with shock; it even made me consider leaving school and finding a different route to walk through. When I think about my disappointment at the time, I believe that it could have been easily reduced with a mentorship program designated for newcomers who are in the process of transitioning to the Canadian education system. I was only introduced to the idea of mentorship in my last year of high school through an organization called MAX, Muslim Awards of Excellence. MAX offered a fellowship for youth where various skills were taught (i.e., public speaking, computer programming, career planning), and facilitated a one-on-one mentorship program.
Let’s imagine together, what if our community provided an ideal high school mentorship program, specifically targeted towards refugees and newcomers, that would have paired me with a student that holds a similar cultural or lingual background to mine. The program would have consisted of regular weekly check-up meetings, consistent communication between me and the paired mentor, and meetings with other individuals that share the same experience as mine. There would have been compiled resources for multiple areas including, but not limited to, volunteer experiences, scholarships, guidance to find jobs, mental health resources, and social events to build a network. This mentorship opportunity, had it existed, would have made the transition smoother, especially considering the gap between educational systems and cultures that I experienced. For example, the Peel District School Board Welcome Centre that performed the assessment for me and my siblings should offer a structurally similar mentorship program at the time of the assessment. Based on the needs of their new students, they would pair them up with mentors that would offer help throughout the transition.
I received immense support from my teachers as well as my family. I also had to venture my way through despite the struggle in the beginning, I managed to connect with many like-minded individuals in my high school, which I am thankful for. However, this was not the case for many of my refugee friends in other schools.
The transition from the East to the West brought new responsibilities to my family: learning about the culture, language, financial system, and how to navigate our everyday lives. Having experienced many struggles alongside my family, I have failed many times, but I have also managed to break down barriers I never thought I could. Without the support and help of others around me, I would not have gotten to where I am today, an undergraduate student at UofT Mississauga pursuing a goal that was once a dream. Refugees struggle, but they get up and come back stronger than before, only with the help and support of the community, and that’s why I shared my story with you all, dear readers. I hope this story gives some of you a scope into one of the many struggles that I faced as a refugee resettling in Canada, and I hope it helps you understand the obstacles that some of the community members encounter to offer any help you could to them.
The views expressed in publications are those of the authors.