By: Shan Qiao in Toronto, ON
At the age of 60, quitting a well-paying job to refinance her townhouse and start an entrepreneurial venture was the last thing Helen Poon’s friends thought she would do. But Helen did just that, setting out to build a healthy eating and living co-op so she could hire people who would be compensated by becoming healthy.
According to a 2017 study, over three quarters of Canadians aren't meeting the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide for fruit and vegetable consumption, this results in an estimated economic burden to society of $4.39 billion annually. While dietary recommendations are made annually by the Canadian government, Poon recognized that a more hands-on approach would be necessary in order to affect more immediate change. The result, the Sprouts Co-Op in Toronto which focuses on specific neighborhoods across the GTA.
The thought of building a community-based healthy food and living co-op had been brewing in her mind for a couple of years, well before Poon decided to quit her job. “You are what you eat,” she continues. Hence the 2017 co-op which is steered by Poon but also receives support from a handful of people that have drawn influence from her.
Poon has never been one to shy from a challenge, so when she learned of the difference sugar alternatives like honey could make, she immersed herself in the subject. Canadians consume an average of 26 teaspoons of it every day, which amounts to 21% of their total daily caloric intake, playing a huge role in many diseases and conditions that have become more prevalent in recent years. Despite her lack of experience in the subject, she has been able to incorporate the ingredient in several recipes without sacrificing taste in any way.
“Helen was my supervisor at our previous organization we both worked for. At the end of last year, she told me she wanted to start a food and health co-op and hire people with disabilities,” says Daphne Au-Young who holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and joined Sprouts as a board member.
“I thought it’s a great initiative to provide affordable healthy food for the community and meaningful employment for individuals with disabilities. I admire Helen’s determination to start an organization at the age of 60. It shows that one is never too old to turn a dream into a reality,” Au-Young explains.
As an immigrant woman who came to this country after China’s 1989 political turmoil, Au-Young said her parents sacrificed their high paying jobs in Hong Kong for stability and freedom in Canada. The version of Sprouts’ “meaningful employment” makes her very happy to see clients moving past their traumas and living a normal life again.
A major influence within the Asian community, Poon is also a mentor to young men like Dave Tran. A descendant of Vietnamese immigrants and high school English teacher, Tran is currently the Vice-Chair of Sprouts and considers Poon an inspiration.
“There have been several important people in my life recently, demonstrating amazing leadership over the years, helping to build a greater diverse community for all. Helen is one of those people. She is quite an inspirational person who is a work horse; she always gives her 100% into anything she does and it can become infectious—in the best way,“ he explains.
Rui Ping Chen came to Canada 10 years ago as a young girl who also met Helen in her previous job. After learning of Sprouts, she was intrigued. “What kind of dream was big enough for her to leave a management position? She talked to me about Sprouts with so much passion and wisdom that I immediately understood why she did what she did.”
“I believe in what Sprouts is trying to promote ‘we are what we eat’,” says Ping, behind a makeshift reception table that collects people’s membership fees and registration forms at Sprouts’ first product launch event in Markham last November. That night, Sprouts successfully attracted more than three dozen people to join as members, after a year-long endeavor by Helen and the people influenced by her.
As the Sprouts Co-op continues its steady growth, Poon hopes to extend her reach to an even more diverse range of members. And while the Co-op's Toronto base has limited its current operations to the GTA, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this ambitious startup.
Commentary by: Mona Mashadi Rajabi in Tehran
I was standing in front of the school’s office and Melody, my daughter, was right beside me. All the children were passing by happily with their parents.
The principal gave me the registration forms and started to talk about the rules and regulations of the school. I was there to register Melody in junior kindergarten.
While I was filling out one of the forms, the principal pointed to an important part and said: “Please write two phone numbers of family members or trusted people, the people whom we can call in case of an emergency.” He continued, “if something comes up, there must be someone other than you and your husband that we can call.”
But, there was no one else to call and it made me nervous. I explained that my family was new in the country and no other family members or trusted friends to call. It was just us, I said, promising to be available Melody needed help.
My daughter's big moment
I was busy attending preparation classes at university when the big day for Melody arrived. It was her First Day at school. Parents were supposed to be available to accompany their children to help them get ready for a milestone moment in their young lives. Parents were expected to give the children a goodbye kiss and wish them a good First Day at school.
It was a big moment for my daughter, a four-year-old girl who wanted to start the journey of her life, but, sadly, I could not be there to support her.
I had to attend a lecture, so I left home early in the morning and my husband took her to school. I learned that the principal was so surprised because of my absence as I missed the most memorable day of my daughter’s education. It was the day that would never come back and the memory that would not be repeated in the future.
After a few months, Melody’s teacher invited the parents to talk about their children’s behaviour and performance in school, and I missed that occasion, too. I missed it because I had an exam on the same day and I had to be at the university.
My absence from my daughter’s life sadly continued. She became sick and I was at my office in the university for my teaching assistant job. She attended the school’s Halloween party and I was busy preparing for my mid-term exams.
She started to speak English and I was not there to witness it, she started to learn French and sing some short songs and I was not there to enjoy it, she found friends and I could not be there to celebrate her friendships, she got invited to her friends’ birthday parties and I could not accompany her, and she went to the playgrounds and I was too tired to play along with her.
I was never available for her, as I was either busy at school or tired at home.
My wish list
I was unhappy and unsatisfied deep inside as I was living a dual life. A life of a full time Ph.D. student who had to work all day long and the life of a mother who was supposed to raise a happy and healthy child but was missing all the precious moments of her daughter’s childhood.
It was not just me in this situation. Many international graduate students with children felt the same as they were alone and had no family or close friends around to help them. They were always busy at school and could not attend to the needs of their children. Many of my colleagues felt like a failure as a parent and lived in an unstable emotional and financial situation in Canada.
I thought about alternative solutions that could help parents like myself who were also full-time students.
I wished the university’s educational calendar started one day after the First Day of children’ school. I wished the schoolteacher could give a couple of choices to parents from which they could choose the one that fit their schedule to speak about the children’s performance at school. I wished the university’s teaching schedule was more flexible and professors cared more about graduate students who had a big responsibility as a parent specially when they had to work as a teaching assistant.
Those were the thoughts that occupied my mind, but they remained a wish list.
Finally, an unbalanced life
Unfortunately, I could do little about my circumstances. The university expected me to be a full time student and a failure at school could lead to the termination of my student visa and eventually an order to me to leave Canada. My husband and Melody were my dependent and a change in my status could have changed theirs as well.
So, I, like most of other international graduate students, had to sacrifice my family life in order to stay in Canada on my student visa. This was an unfair deal for a parent graduate student.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By: Joyeeta Dutta Ray in Toronto, ON
Toronto has always been a magnet for new immigrants. Some come here to escape bullets. Some come to fill up their wallets. Some are here to breathe in unpolluted air.
Over the last few years however, more and more skilled immigrants have traded their Permanent Resident garlands for a rosy life elsewhere.
The reason is almost always one of the two: Unemployment or underemployment!
This was seldom the case even a couple of decades back.
When Mila Lebuda fled to Toronto from communist Poland in 1991 at the age of 21, the country embraced her with open arms. It did not matter that she did not speak English or that she didn’t have much work experience. The grounds for adopting her were purely humanitarian.
“Canada gave me a new lease of life” she says. This is where she met her future husband, Vlad Lebuda another Polish immigrant like her. She made money as a caregiver. He drove a truck. As finances improved, their lifestyle did too. For Mila, the biggest barrier was language. Once that hurdle was crossed, life was sunshine and tulips.
However, not everyone finds the same success in Canada!
Mila’s tech-savvy Polish friend, Aron* (named changed for privacy) had higher ambitions. He went back to Poland as soon as conditions improved. “There are better opportunities there now. Despite living here for 10 years, he never got his due,” says Mila.
Not surprising! Statistics Canada reports that even after being in Canada for 15 years, immigrants with a university degree are more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs.
New Immigration Policies; New People
There’s a shift in trends. As new policies replace older ones, immigrants flying in to Canada now, are visibly different than those who came in earlier. They are better educated, better versed in English and better positioned professionally.
There’s a reason behind that. Earlier Canada took in more unskilled workers to meet economic needs. But recruitment efforts for skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors are the need of the hour now. “Since 2006, the government has made dramatic changes to the federal skilled workers program by raising language requirements, restricting eligibility to specific professions and pre-screening applicants’ foreign credentials”, says the Toronto Star.
Yet, these very skilled immigrants are the ones who are having it rough.
For Roopa Rakshit who moved with her husband and 12 year old son to Thunder Bay (Ontario) from Thailand in 2012, migration was a decision based on being located closer to their daughter who was studying in UBC, Vancouver.
It was an intimidating prospect at a stage in their lives when they were well-settled professionally. But they were confident that their international resumes would open doors. They were in for a surprise!
It took Roopa 4 years to find a job suited to her skills. “I was an environmentalist in a United Nations affiliated organization in my previous life (Bangkok). While my International experience was appreciated, I was made to realize that I fell short of the “Canadian experience.“
In the race to build her “Canadianess”, Roopa sprinted on the volunteering path, networked along the way and picked up a scholarship for PHD at Lakehead University. That was the trophy that gave her the much needed break. “It was my research topic on energy planning with the First Nations people that led me to my current job in a First Nations Technical Services Organization.”
Malak Ahmed, who moved from Egypt in August 2016 with her husband and three daughters, has a similar story. She was a Business Unit Director in a leading advertising agency in Cairo. Despite her fancy title and a McGill Graduate Certificate, no employer was ready to lay out the red carpet for her.
“While I did expect to work my way up, I didn’t expect to stumble so many steps down the ladder in the process. I was surprised that a city that boasted of a high rate of immigration would put so much emphasis on 'Canadian experience'!”
To cross the barrier, her next step was to get an employment agency to rewrite her CV. That’s quite another story.
The Great Canadian Resume
Few countries have elevated the resume to such heights. It’s almost an art form here, based not on jotting down your skills but how strategically you phrase them. No matter how clipped your English, how impressive your name card or how many reference letters you come armed with, it’s hard for foreigners to master this skill.
Only Canadians know the trick! They have ingeniously made a business out of it, creating employment for themselves to help clueless newcomers like Malak.
When the planets finally aligned to bless her with a job, the pay didn’t match up to her qualifications. But despite it all, Malak chooses to stay on. “After the revolution in Cairo, the economy struggled and so did we. But it’s all been worthwhile. We like the cultural diversity here. The kids love their schools.”
Easy to see how soaring cost of living, rising crime and jobs with unscrupulous hours in Cairo make Canada seem like Disneyland.
For Alexa, who came from Honduras (Central America) to North York, the road was as rough. She arrived armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, a Masters in Marketing, 5 years at an International Telecommunications company and dreams to make it big. None of these made things any easier!
“I was a Marketing and Sales Manager at Huawei Technologies in Honduras. The biggest challenge for me was to start my career from the bottom up.” But she wouldn’t head back either. “Honduras is a small country where 50% of people live in poverty. There is a high rate of homicides and corruption.” In contrast, Canada offers commuting safety, free education and healthcare. The choice is clear!
Escaping corruption was high on the list for Marcia to move from Brazil as well. She arrived with her husband in Toronto in 2016. “The social discrepancy of wealth makes for very dangerous streets, with thefts happening everywhere” she says. While it’s a dream to stroll around North America’s safest metropolitan “without fear of getting mugged”, the Marketing professional who worked for 9 years in a leading multinational company, found it hard to find a job. It took her 3 months to find full-time employment and when she did, the job was an entry level position in Customer Service that paid less than she expected because of her lack of “Canadian Experience”.
“You feel like your experience in a foreign country is devalued because you haven’t applied it in Canada. Recruiters tend to disqualify you too”, she says.
Canada: More dependent on new immigrants than ever
Canada thrives on new immigrants to bring in the bucks. Estimates from the Conference Board of Canada reveal that if Canadian employers recognized and rewarded immigrant skills, the country would earn an additional $10 million annually.
Instead, every year, Canada loses valuable doctors, engineers, accountants and marketing professionals to the USA, where “American Experience” is an unheard of criterion! While others take up blue collar jobs that don’t do justice to their skills.
Local employers argue that “Canadian Experience” assures understanding of the soft skills essential for success here.
However, it pays for them to remember that the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) has laid down a strict declaration that “Canadian Experience” is discrimination and can only be used in very limited circumstances.
Interestingly enough, smaller cities and rural areas in Canada have set a better example. In 2013, Moncton, New Brunswick ran career fairs that encouraged employers to hire immigrants. In Manitoba the tiny cities of Winkler and Morden have not just drawn newcomers in large numbers with their successful immigration programs, but also helped them settle in to a quality lifestyle.
How can Ontario follow suit?
Roopa suggests, “Employers should be encouraged to accept professional immigrants to maximize on their experience. The integration can include in-house orientation.” Marcia agrees. “There should be more incentives from the government to encourage companies to hire qualified foreigners in appropriate positions. The success of the immigration policy should be measured not by the number of people who come in but by the number of people who stay on successfully in the country.”
For a country that prides itself on being humanitarian, learning from the smaller towns and listening to the less heard voices could be the key to turning things around before an ageing population and shrinking birth rate get the better of the nation.
By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
Communication is more than understanding the words.
I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences.
It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you.
Animation film that opened my eyes
I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make.
One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter.
I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind.
A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.
It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.
For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.
But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed.
Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation
Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada.
Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me.
At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children.
Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.”
She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.
She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together.
“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made.
At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.”
This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada.
After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before.
She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill.
She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.”
After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.
Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success.
I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.”
And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success.
Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.
This was the time that, I felt like home.
This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Commentary by: Mona Mashadi 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.
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.
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
Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
Time is quickly running out for this liberal government. With recent polls showing Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating hovering at 19 per cent within her home province, a historically low rate which stands below all other active Premiers.
Premier Wynne needs to step aside soon and allow another member of the party an opportunity to rebuild the Ontario Liberal brand at a time when they can still recover ahead of the next provincial election. If she waits any longer, she risks depriving her party of any chance to enjoy the grace period that is usually afforded to new leaders. On another tangent, refusal to leave could result in further economic hardships for a province that was once looked at as a prosperous financial state.
Since that election, the gaffes and examples of Liberal mismanagement have been stacking up like cordwood and polls have shown that Ontario voters are ready for a change. The Tories have made significant gains, now finding themselves sitting at 38% in the polls to the Liberals’ 30% and NDP 24%. The recent Forum poll even suggests, say it isn’t so, that the Tories are ahead in Toronto!
Wynne’s hubris is larger than the budget deficit she and her party have racked up under their leadership, yet she insists she will not relinquish her position of leadership. If that is the case, then I am convinced we are going to see a catastrophic meltdown of her party from which the Liberals are not likely to recover for some time.
Liberal failures are beginning to add up: the “billion-dollar gas plant boondoggle”, the disastrously inept mismanagement of hydro in general, the more than $300 billion in provincial deficit, Wynne's costly handling of the carbon tax and environment files, the Sudbury by-election scandal, and the botched sale of Hydro-One; are all contributing to the province's mistrust of the ruling party.
The Wynne Government's recent report on Ontario education reported that hardly half of Ontario's Grade 6 students passed provincial standards in math this year. The lack of improvement has lead the party to suggest a curriculum overhaul. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter went on to say, "there's still more work to do, especially when it comes to math overall."
Even with the additional $60 million provided to schools for improved Math curriculums, students continue to struggle with the subject.
Ontarians and pundits alike are reaching the same conclusion that the Liberal party’s popularity and prospects cannot recover with Wynne at the helm of the government.
Ontario’s economy is being subjected to damage, the likes of which it has never seen and may never recover from. Which may leave the citizens of this once great and prosperous province to struggle against epic currents just to keep their heads above the proverbial water.
Wynne’s terrible leadership and numerous failures have done real and lasting damage to the Province of Ontario. It is time for her to accept responsibility for her mismanagement, step aside, and allow another to take over.
This is now Patrick Brown’s election to lose and he needs to step up and show he has what it takes to lead Ontario out of the bleak state of affairs that Wynne and her Liberals have dragged us into.
Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications.
By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia
The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.
So what to make of these shifts?
On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.
To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).
According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.
Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.
It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.
Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.
There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.
Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.
By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.
This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.
The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.
We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.
That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.
It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.
We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.
These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.
The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change?
Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.
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.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit