Immigrant Success Stories: Mohammad and Bayan
Wednesday | March 23, 2022 | by Wilma Lee
World Education Services (WES) believes in the power of storytelling and shared resources. In 2019, we reached out to immigrants across North America. We asked about their reasons for leaving home, their challenges along the way, and the advice they would like to share with other newcomers.
In this new blog series, we are now sharing their stories with you. Below is a story from a husband and wife, Mohammad and Bayan.
Click here to hear from others who have contributed their voices to WES.
Mohammad Al-Maksour and his wife, Bayan Ali, describe life in pre-war Aleppo City as “peaceful and simple” before 2011. Mohammad became a teacher after earning his bachelor’s degree in English from Aleppo University. He said of that time in Syria: “Everyone [could] live easily. Even if you were poor and did not have a permanent job, you could still have a good life.”
However, when war broke out, they had to flee their home country for Canada—by way of Turkey.
Syria at War
On August 26, 2013, a plane dropped a bomb close to a small private school co-founded by Mohammad. He and many students and teachers were evacuated to different Turkish hospitals. Several people passed away from critical injuries.
After recuperating, Mohammad remained in Turkey. He worked at a local school for Syrian refugee children for several months, then secured a high school teaching position at the Al-Salam School (Syrian Canadian School) in 2014.
Bayan joined him with the rest of her family in 2013. She completed her education, engaged in language training, and then received certification in Turkish. Following her marriage to Mohammad in 2015, she moved to Reyhanli and taught Syrian refugee children to speak Turkish.
Today, Mohammad and his wife both speak Arabic and English. Bayan also speaks fluent Turkish (and Mohammad has a working knowledge of it).
At first, Mohammad and Bayan thought they would make a new life for themselves in Europe. But it was not meant to be. The couple wound up in Canada, instead, through what they now call “good fortune.” A humanitarian from St. John’s, Newfoundland, visited Al-Salam. At first, he mentored Mohammad. Then, he asked if the couple might be interested in immigrating to Canada.
They immediately said “yes,” but assumed the process would either take a long time. To their surprise, a family agreed to sponsor them within 10 days. In May 2016, they landed in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“We can’t express how much we are grateful to our sponsors who brought us to a great country to call it home,” Mohammad said. “They [made a] great effort to get us settled and integrated.”
Moving to Canada
Mohammad and Bayan moved into a rental unit administered by the provincial non-profit housing authority in Newfoundland.
They highlighted that leaving their families, and moving far away from Syria, was difficult. Meanwhile, they also recognized they were in a much better position than many other Syrian refugees who were taking great risks seeking safety by sea. They describe this high-risk option as “going from death to death.”
Mohammad and Bayan were impressed by the friendliness of Canadians, which was apparent from their second day in the city: “When people in the street say hi, we know they are not going to harm us. These simple greetings were really important to us.”
The cold weather was an initial challenge for the couple. They were also surprised by the differences in the cost of living and how challenging it was to live on a low, fixed income.
And although they were proficient in English, it was hard to transition to using the language full-time. Mohammad says the local dialect was “so fast.” He says, “I thought I was mishearing or mispronouncing some words.”
But the major obstacle came when they considered further education. In 2016, Mohammad and Bayan explored enrollment opportunities at Memorial University. They were dismayed to find that the university would not recognize their international credentials because they could not produce their records from war-ravaged institutions in Syria.
“The main reason to come here was to upgrade our education,” recalled the disappointed couple. Instead, they were back to square one.
They considered several options and, subsequently, with student loans, they enrolled in a two-year online diploma course in Medical Office Administration. To do this, they only needed their high school transcripts and some proficiency in English.
For Mohammad in particular, having taught and having opened his own school, it is discouraging that there were no other options. They wished they had access to an organization could provide credential evaluations and verifications for refugees in their situation.
Advice for Newcomers
Prior to moving, they had little time to learn about Canada. They sent questions to their sponsors, got in touch with people who had relatives in Canada, joined groups on Facebook, and Googled.
Looking back, they would caution other migrants to temper their expectations about Canada.
“Canada is seen as the ‘land of milk and honey,’” Mohammad says. But this might lead migrants to falsely believe they will have a lot of extra money to send back home.
Still, he says, “I would say to people to come here. It’s a great opportunity for their kids and their future. Come here for education, working and safety.”
Next, Mohammad would like to pursue more workplace mentoring and training. “I understand that the skills I have as an English teacher are not competitive enough here,” he says, “but I would like an opportunity to work within the Canadian system [to] upgrade my skills and expand my methods.”
Mohammad and Bayan hope that upon earning their diplomas they can go to university and re-earn their former undergraduate degrees. Otherwise, they would like to find a credentialing service to help them verify their previous education.
Then, Mohammad wants to pursue a master’s degree in education and eventually earn a Ph.D. He would like to ultimately teach at the university level. Bayan wants to pursue dentistry. Both of them talk about bringing their families to safety in Canada. Bayan’s family has already started the process.
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