From Banking to Jazz: A Syrian Refugee’s Journey to Canada
Wednesday | August 14, 2019 | by Alyona Kalachova
Majd Sekkar was a Syrian refugee when he arrived in Canada. Today, he’s hitting high notes as he develops a music career in Toronto.
Keep reading to learn about his journey.
In the Beginning: Aleppo and Damascus
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, Majd was searching for settlement services that were equipped to help a Syrian refugee in his position. He 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.”
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 it’s important to focus on your language skills. English classes helped him build his language skills. However, they also allowed him to connect with people from different cultures. They were able to compare stories about settling into a new country. As a Syrian refugee, it was an important part of embracing the complete picture of cultural diversity in Canada. However, he believes that all newcomers should prioritize their communication skills.
“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.”