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On Learning and Growing: Zareen’s Story

I moved to Canada in 2019 from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for university on a study permit. I have Indian citizenship, but grew up and lived in Dubai since the UAE doesn’t provide their own citizenships. Life was easy back home since it provided the luxury of safety and comfort compared to the discomfort of moving to start a new life.

I am hoping to make Canada my permanent home after immigration since it allowed me to pursue life after university. It was essential to find a country that gave me the option to become a citizen after my initial move. It is a welcoming country; I have accomplished my goal of receiving a degree from an established university while continuing to work on my larger aspirations and vision for my life.

The education system in Canada was a valuable experience. It made me a more open-minded person with critical thinking and rational learning skills that I use every day. The transition from an Indian curriculum to the Canadian education system was a huge adjustment, but one that I was happy to make.

Moving to Canada alone at eighteen was exciting and scary, and I feel so grateful that my extended family (who lives in the USA) was able to help me with the travel and administrative work. Other than the tedious paperwork, it was a fun adventure I took on with other international students. My first winter in Calgary required adaptation because of the change in lifestyle and weather (I was used to +40 degrees rather than -40). I especially struggled with seasonal depression, although I prefer to call it the seasonal blues, in the winter months; this was worsened by the isolation that everyone experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was unable to go home or socialize which made me question if I had made the right financial decision in coming here for my education. Thankfully, I was able to get an in-person graduation, which was an important event for me.

Due to Covid-19, the process time for my work visa was slower than anticipated. My anxiety was also heightened about not being able to network with professionals in my career field. I soon took matters into my own hands and I decided to network with people on my own; through this process, I was able to work part time during my last year of university. Upon graduation, I was offered a full-time position by the company. I was thankful for the opportunity and immediately accepted the offer.

I currently hold a post graduate work permit (PGWP) and have for two years now. It was hard to transition from a study permit to the PGWP with the pressure of finding a job under a time constraint. The fear of having to return home can cause a great deal of stress for international students: a feeling I am also familiar with. During this time, I was not permitted to visit home to see my family. My profile had not been updated, but I knew I had to travel. As such, I had to contact Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada, Canada Post, and Calgarian members of parliament in order to plead my case.

Finding a place of residence after living on campus throughout my time in university was a challenge. My applications for residence buildings were rejected multiple times with the argument that the documents were not valid enough as proof for long-term tenants. Essentials such as bank accounts and health insurance expire at the same time since they are valid until your student visa’s expiration date. Applying for the PGWP and its process is essentially uprooting everything that you have worked to establish for the past four to five years and restarting your life in Canada. Everything is on standby until you receive the letter of documentation.

I enjoy working in Canada because it values a work-life balance much more than in the Middle East. I grew up watching my parents work all day without much time left for themselves. I did not work in the UAE, however, compared to what I have heard, the professionalism here is much better, especially in terms of communications.

I did not face any language barriers, however, it is unfortunate that I have to prove my proficiency in English after living in Canada for so long as well as graduating from a distinguished university with a Media and Communications degree. I find it disrespectful when people assume my proficiency is weak, and make assumptions about where I am. I have never felt directly threatened or disrespected with a few minor exceptions. However, I do not consider those as representative of my overall time in Canada.

It has been a joy to look back at my time here and see my personal growth and development over the years. From living on campus to having my own space is a beautiful journey. While it has also been a challenge being away from home, I find comfort in the idea that I have two homes now: where my family is and where I live. Being home provides a sense of safety while Calgary provides independence and confirms my own identity. If I could, I would tell my younger self to have faith because it will all work out in the end.

Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity

This story is a collaborative effort between Nandini Agarwal and Zareen Akhtar

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