By Meagan Secord
In a new country almost 10,000 kilometres away from her home in Mashhad Iran, Farideh Resaei Namjoo left behind one struggle to face another as her new life in Canada got off to a rocky start.
The 33-year-old Office Administration student came to Durham College to get an education, and hopefully, permanent residence in Canada. Namjoo hopes to create a foothold here so her two younger sisters and her cousin can join her.
“When I’m established here, I want to help my family get out of Iran,” she says.
However, her journey to reach this goal has not been an easy one.
Life in Iran
Women in Iran have rights on paper but when it comes to real-life situations, they aren’t allowed to exercise them, according to Namjoo. A man has to make all decisions.
For example, women need a man’s permission (either a husband, father, brother or any male family figure) to get married and make major health decisions, according to Namjoo. She said she couldn’t even go out without a male escort because violence against women is so common.
“I was always rebellious and I think the reason my family sent me here was because I’d have gotten myself killed there,” says Namjoo. “Before coming here (Canada,) I never thought of love because of the harassment and violence.”
Women in Iran face sexual harassment and violence daily, according to Namjoo. She says the issue is so prominent that it is no longer addressed properly in the courts and women’s stories and trials are going unheard.
When she left Iran, Namjoo had the blessing of both her parents to fly overseas and start a new life. Coming here was so important that she even left behind her boyfriend. Although he tried, he could not get a Visa to come with her.
She says she dreamed of coming to Canada to escape the discrimination women live in Iran. However, the journey she’s taken to get here has been anything but easy.
Challenges coming to Canada
Namjoo arrived at Montreal airport on Canada Day in 2018 and immediately had issues finding work because her study permit, which she waited a year to receive, didn’t include a social insurance number (SIN) so she could work while in school.
According to Immigration and Citizenship Canada, 5,955 international students were approved to study in Canada in 2018 and the approval rate of people applying for study permits from Iran is 71 per cent.
She says to tried to amend this twice but finally had to file for a new study permit because of rejections.
She says this, on top of missing her family, made life really hard on her.
“It was very difficult for the first few months for myself and my family. They’re very religious so that helps them cope,” says Namjoo. “It definitely wasn’t easy but thanks to technology we talk a lot. I miss hugging them though.”
To add to her frustrations, she says lack of money from not being able to work caused her initial place of residence to fall through.
Then Namjoo was assaulted. She says life became very difficult and dealing with mental health on top of finding a place to live was stressful.
“I’ve been settling down the last two weeks but since things went wrong I’ve been moving around a lot,” says Namjoo.
She has now moved to Oshawa and is starting to focus again on her studies.
Namjoo says mental health clinics want to help her manage some of the challenges she has faced but can’t due to the unique situation studying abroad puts international students in.
“We aren’t technically citizens so we can’t access the same services,” she says.
She hopes something will change in the future to make studying here a little easier for.
Process of moving
Shannon Bracken, the dean of Admissions and Recruitment at Ontario Tech University, says the process for international students to study here can be quite lengthy.
“The process for studying in Canada takes multiple steps, typically starting with their application,” she says. “Similar to a Canadian student, an international student would submit an application along with their academic documents, and proof of English language proficiency (ELP).”
Proof of the ELP proves international students know the language well enough to come to Canada and successfully study. The test can be submitted through proof of previous courses or taking a language proficiency test.
Ontario Tech offers an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program, through the English Language Centre, which future Ontario Tech and Durham College students can access to learn the language, she says.
According to Bracken, after the student is admitted to their school of choice, they apply for their immigration documents or study permit with Immigration and Citizenship Canada. A study permit is a visa that allows international students to study here.
“Once a student has been approved, they are able to come to Canada to begin their studies. Depending on the student’s background, [and their proficiency] they may need to complete English language training prior to their academic studies,” says Bracken.
Namjoo didn’t have to take English language training because already holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Iran. She has also earned a degree in exercise sports science, a master’s in teaching, a master’s in exercise physiology, a PhD in exercise bio-chemistry and a post-graduate certificate in gerontology before coming here to study.
Namjoo is taking Office Administration as a way to gain permanent residency in Canada.
Life here in Canada
Despite the bumpy journey to get the DC, there are many things Namjoo loves about being in Canada. Diversity, freedom and growth are all things she has enjoyed since her arrival in 2018.
For example, Namjoo says walking at night is a new experience for her since moving to Canada. She says it is not something she could have ever done in Iran because of the dangers of being female.
She hopes to finish school and create a strong enough foothold to bring her sisters and her cousin over as well, but first, she is focusing on growing here in her new life.
“I am becoming another person, a better version of myself,” she says. “I’ve developed coping abilities that I didn’t dream that I had. I think I’m becoming mature and really appreciate having a lot of cultural diversities around and dealing with different people.”