How to pursue your education as a Canadian immigrant
When I immigrated to Canada, naturally, I thought a lot about my education and employment. Was it necessary for people like me who had a university degree to go back to “school” to get jobs? If yes, what would be the “best or right approach” to pursue my education upgrade?
I took those questions to UforChange’s Education Director and Arts Coordinator, Sarah El-Raheb. UforChange is a community group based in the St. James neighbourhood of Toronto. It works with immigrant and low-income youth, aged 16-29, who are interested in the arts.
UforChange recently organized an education fair, where it brought in experts from 7 Toronto colleges and universities to its headquarters. This gave immigrant youth a chance to overcome language barriers and take their time to talk with those experts in an intimate atmosphere. It was also a chance for them to have their qualifications and degrees assessed, understand their options and learn about accessible resources.
El-Raheb thinks that it is very important for immigrants to research before coming to Canada, in order to figure out what programs and qualifications are needed to work in the country they are immigrating to. Future immigrants need to assess what they will study, how they will do that and only then make a decision on when exactly to immigrate. Will they need to stay “back home” for another year or two until they save enough money for Canadian education, or is it better to immigrate right away and figure out what and how to study after arriving here?
“It’s really important for people to understand that there are options and resources,” she says, stressing that “you have to connect yourself to the right people.” To secure this connection, El-Raheb advises going to community agencies like hers or Pathways to Education and seek help. “If you are going to get your information from this or that guy, you are going to feel that you (lack) the right answers, that you don’t have the right path.”
She further emphasises the importance of networking “with people who have experience in the field.” Immigrants should go to universities and colleges and speak with academic advisers, go to high schools and see guidance councillors. “People have to drop on what they are interested in and what they are good at and from there, research programs that relate to their interests, talents and skills and come up with the best options for themselves moving forward.”
So what else should immigrants do? Should they wait till after they get their first job to move forward with their education plans? “If they can afford just going to (university) and focus on that and move on, I would say do that. If you are able to get OSAP and get your education, do that first!” she says. “Because you are not going to waste years doing a job that you hate, that you’re not getting paid well for, that’s below your skill level.”
But if you are in a tight financial position, basically you need to take care of yourself, she adds. So, for example, if you are trained as a chef back home, there are continuing education certificates and programs which you can take at night at colleges like George Brown. Over the span of a year you can get yourself certified as a chef, a very good option for anyone who works and is busy during the day.
El-Raheb sees problems with accreditation as well. “They are engineers back home, they come here and don’t know whether they can work or not, what tests should they take or even what programs they have to (study) in order to become accredited.” There’s no tangible information given to them, she says, to help them figure their path here, and this is a big problem, because people are not being made aware of their options.
“In this economy, if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree you are not going to get looked at. That’s why we have (education fairs).” Even if you have a degree from back home that is not recognized here, go get your education, she says. “The market is so competitive, that if you don’t have a fundamental base in your education, there’s always someone who will and will get looked at first.”
El-Raheb reminds immigrants to check the employment potentials of the careers they choose to study. She suggests two ways to do that. Going to the specific website of the college or university and clicking on the program you are interested in, as most websites enable potential students to research the careers they are interested in. Another option would be to check the OUAC website, which provides some resources to help people realize their options.
If you don’t want to study a university degree, a college might prove a good alternative. You can visit the Ontario Colleges website, which gives a breakdown of all colleges in the province, and mentions specific program pre-requisites and contact information. You can actually search programs either by interest or by the length of time it takes to complete them. These options might be helpful in narrowing down what field to choose to studyand helping you understand.
As an additional option, El-Raheb advises to check some employment agencies, like the Center for Education and Training, which can help in terms of education or at least guide immigrants to the right people. Usually those centres would have hard copies of the college and university programs which you can check.
So take your time to research, research and research and then don’t be afraid to ask questions. Perhaps you don’t need to go back to college or university and do a whole new degree. Sometimes just taking a few continuing education courses, just to upgrade, might be the solution for you.
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