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 Niloufar’s.
Click here to hear from others who have contributed their voices to WES.
Educational excellence is an unwritten rule in Niloufar Abaei’s family. That’s why she has always strived to be among the top students at school.
“Education was the best way to make my mother proud of me. I have put enormous efforts to make her happy, as she is the center of my life,” Niloufar explains. Despite feeling very attached to her loved ones, Niloufar left Iran to pursue a graduate degree from Canada in 2017. The 27-year-old is now currently completing her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Ottawa.
Read Niloufar’s immigration journey and how it was driven by a desire to study abroad.
Niloufar has always been a promising student in Iran. She got her undergraduate degree at Shahid Beheshti University, one of the country’s top public universities. Her high CGPA earned her an exemption from the national university entrance exam to do her master’s degree.
But she also faced limitations along the way. When one of her papers was accepted at an international conference in the United States, she failed to get a visa due to the political sanctions that have been imposed on Iran.
She says, “When I was struggling with my thesis, I didn’t receive enough support from my professors. Even the university didn’t acknowledge my achievements; I gradually became disappointed.”
“I never thought of immigration,” Niloufar explains. “But the absence of support from my professors, and the lack of appreciation at the university, compelled me to choose Canada over Iran to pursue my Ph.D.”
Finally, she turned her thoughts to the University of Ottawa (uOttawa), where her closest friend was doing her Ph.D.
“She became the main source of information for me,” she says. “I also checked the uOttawa ranking and realized that there are qualified professors who can help in my Ph.D.” Niloufar also learned about the university from online discussion forums and social media pages.
She decided to apply. But in the meantime, she graduated with her master’s degree and went to work in Iran. Now, it was simply time to wait and see what her future held.
Graduate Degree Alternatives
Niloufar worked less than a year in a telecommunications company before receiving her letter of offer from uOttawa.
“I had mixed feelings; I was happy that I could continue my studies in a top university with a full scholarship, but I was sad too that I had to leave my family for years,” she remarks.
However, she also knew this offer would pave the way for her to become financially independent and to gain the opportunity to work under the supervision of experienced professors.
On August 5, 2017, Niloufar’s best friend was at the airport to welcome her to Canada.
“I am so grateful that my friend was waiting for me at the airport; it is dramatically scary if you arrive in a new country alone without even knowing a single person,” she stresses.
Recounting her first impressions of Ottawa, which she will call home for the next several years, she remarks, “Ottawa is the capital, so I was expecting to see high-rise buildings and towers—it was different from my sense of a capital city.”
It took Niloufar a while to get used to living alone, although she had prepared herself for this scenario in advance.
“I have learned how to be independent; I remember the extremely cold days that I had to go to Walmart for groceries. I was alone carrying a few plastic bags in minus-20 degrees,” she says proudly, as this is one of her major breakthroughs.
Niloufar spends most of her time at the campus studying and helping her research supervisor. She doesn’t think this lifestyle reflects all of Canada. “On campus, I feel more welcomed. But off-campus, I receive the ‘welcome vibes’ mostly from seniors rather than youth or teenagers,” she notes.
On the one hand, as an international student, English academic writing is a challenge for Niloufar. “Even if I have the knowledge, I can’t present and write as good as a native student,” she remarks.
But Niloufar takes advantages of the university resources. She attends workshops on thesis writing, visits healthcare seminars, uses numerous academic databases, and explores the up-to-date facilities to optimize her academic journey.
To help prepare international students for the local job market, she thinks that holding “brainstorming sessions” with field experts could play a huge role. To be prepared for post-university life, she is independently looking into upcoming trends in her field.
As Niloufar strives for excellence, she remarks that “an immigrant cannot succeed in all personal, social, and professional aspects of their life,” without support. Differences in culture, mindset, and values are barriers to developing strong relationships with peers.
Niloufar believes emotional support is the most crucial aspect of newcomer’s life. Their first impression can change their whole perception of their new country. She emphasizes that universities have to take care of these students and help them to overcome the stress of relocation.
“An immigrant is like a plant that has been pulled out from its soil and been transferred to a pot, and although you feed it, it always suffers from disconnections,” Niloufar explains. “The absence of family is torture.” That is why she recommends immigration to couples rather than single people.
Thankfully that has gotten a little easier for her, personally. She has been much more content, and felt a lot less alone, since falling in love with a fellow student.
Niloufar is now a Teaching Assistant (TA) at the university, which allows her to earn an income as a student. The school has also assisted her by providing her with a private office. “The university facilities are good enough to support students; they also bought me better equipment after I requested it,” she says, admiringly.
Although she had never thought of immigration before, Niloufar has now chosen Canada as her permanent destination. She is a newly married woman who has applied to become a Permanent Resident under her husband’s file. Her short-term goal is to finish her Ph.D. and find a job at National Research Canada (NRC). Her medium-term goal is to work in machine learning. Her long-term goal is to bring her family to Ottawa, since she has missed them tremendously.
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