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From Banking to Jazz: A Syrian Refugee’s Journey to Canada

Wednesday | August 14, 2019 | by Alyona Kalachova

syrian refugee Canada

Majd Sekkar is a Syrian newcomer to Canada who is hitting high notes as he develops a music career in Toronto.

Majd holds a bachelor’s degree in banking and finance from the University of Aleppo, which he attended from 2010 to 2014. After university he worked at Bank Al-Sharq, a subsidiary of Banque Libano-Francaise. But since music was Majd’s true passion he periodically played gigs on the side.

Living in Aleppo then was not easy. The city had suffered massive destruction during the Syrian civil war. In January 2016, Majd moved to Damascus, the capital, to start working as a musician full time. But even there he lived with daily uncertainty, never feeling secure and always fearing for the future.

Starting a New Life

In October 2016, Majd fled his home country to seek a better life in Canada. Learning how to communicate effectively in a new country was now one of his greatest challenges.

However, another difficulty awaited Majd when he decided to pursue a degree in music and apply to a Canadian college. Humber College required a credential evaluation report that would provide an equivalency statement comparing the credential Majd had earned in Syria with a similar credential in Canada.

Obtaining official documents directly from an academic institution in Syria was not an easy task, however, since Aleppo was the target of some of the civil war’s most devastating bombing campaigns.

“It was difficult to communicate with my university in Aleppo because of the war crisis in the country,” Majd says.

One day, searching for settlement services, Majd discovered the Centre for Immigrant and Community Services (CICS). It was there that he learned about the WES Gateway Program, which is designed for immigrants who have been forcibly displaced and lack standard academic documents. A credential evaluation report issued by the WES Gateway Program would enable Majd to enter a four-year bachelor’s program and put him on a solid educational and professional path—if Humber would accept it.

Becoming a Musician in Canada

In April 2018, Majd completed an eight-month certificate program at Humber, “Introduction to Commercial Jazz Music.” He used the credential evaluation report issued through the WES Gateway Program to apply to Humber’s Bachelor of Music – Saxophone/Woodwind program. Humber’s credit transfer team accepted Majd’s Gateway report along with course outlines for the credit transfer process without question. Majd will start at Humber in September.

“Without the WES Gateway Program, I would not have been accepted to Humber College, because I don’t have a Canadian high school diploma and I needed to get my academic credentials evaluated,” says Majd.

“I feel more confident since I can now focus on my music career and apply for new jobs. Finally, I am so thankful to WES. It gave me hope and a big push for achieving my dreams.”

Syrian refugee Canada

Majd now works as a clarinetist at the Canadian Arabic Orchestra and also teaches clarinet. He will soon be a very busy fellow juggling life, work, and school. But Majd believes that a desire to succeed coupled with a willingness to work hard always bears fruit. He plans to pursue a career as a musician or work for a music production company.

Advice for Other Newcomers

Majd says that focusing on improving his language skills, which includes a commitment to English classes and connecting with people of different cultures, has helped him navigate the difficulties of settling into a new country. He suggests that other newcomers also prioritize communication skills and embrace Canada’s cultural diversity.

“Understand that there is [a variety] of nationalities and ethnicities [in] this land, and you have to respect them and learn from them,” Majd advises. “Explore the Canadian culture and traditions – then add your back-home experience to have a good mix of manners and behaviours. Canadians are the kindest people in the world.”

Related Reading

Re-Entering Your Profession: A Former Refugee’s Story

Refugee Pilot Project Success Leads to WES Gateway Program

Alyona Kalachova

Alyona Kalachova is the marketing and communications associate at WES Global Talent Bridge Canada