Canada 2017

'I'm accepted here.' Meet 4 students choosing Canada post Brexit and Trump

Four international students share their reservations about studying in the U.K. and U.S., and why they hope to continue their education in Canada.

'Before the ban, I knew almost nothing about Canada…'

From left to right, Maryam Daryalal, Husnah Madhy, Shadi Heidarifar and Hiba Sarfraz all hope to continue their education in Canada. (CBC)

Every year, students from around the globe vie for spots at world class universities in the U.K. and the U.S. But in a year that's been riddled with political turmoil and unrest — including controversy surrounding Brexit and the U.S. travel ban — observers predict more international students will set their sights on Canada

So who are the students fuelling the so-called Brexit and Trump bumps? Why would anyone turn down full funding at UCLA? Or hesitate to walk around campus at the University of Manchester?

For insight, we speak to four students who now have reservations about studying in the U.K. and U.S. and hope to continue their education in Canada.

Maryam Daryalal​: From Iran. Lives in Montreal. Plans to complete her PhD somewhere in Canada.

Political unknowns led Maryam Daryalal​ to turn down offers from UCLA and Cornell University. (Maryam Daryalal​)

I'm Iranian, and I'm happy to be — but even before Trump's travel ban, getting a U.S. visa for study was not an easy process. It's even harder if you want to come with an accompanying person (like your husband) and are pregnant.

My story began a few years ago. I started sending my applications to the U.S. in December 2016, but planning began long before that.

This took years of hard work, including filling out application forms, sending transcripts, submitting standardized scores and so on. Each step had its own cost too.

But the hard work paid off. In mid-February and early March, I got official letters from business schools at UCLA and Cornell University, both offering admission with full funding packages.

At first I thought: it's gonna be hard, but my education is vital. My husband and I decided I had to go through with this, even if it meant spending some years apart.

Even before Trump's travel ban, getting a U.S. visa for study was not an easy process- Maryam Daryalal​

But then I found out I was pregnant with a due date in late September. Meanwhile, the political situation was changing.

After the travel ban, reports of hate crimes were abundant. The most scary part was fear for safety, especially for my husband and my baby.

Next, it was the fear of not being with my loved ones. I have a lot of friends that haven't seen their families in more than five years, and this was even before the travel ban. I cannot even guess what will happen in the future.

In the end I decided not to study in the U.S. This decision was very hard for me, as I had worked day and night to get into these American schools. The admission committees in both universities were very caring, and there were many follow-ups. They gave me a real prospect of success.

After turning them down, I felt frustrated and humiliated. I felt marked. I felt isolated. This sort of discrimination cuts so deep.

I know they say there's hidden racism in Canada as well, but I haven't seen anything like that. I always feel I'm accepted here. I don't feel like someone from another planet!

The fact that Canada sees Iranians as potential assets and not threats was surprising for me. On the radio I heard that Canada should try to attract Iranian students and that universities were extending their deadlines to accommodate them. This was surprising and heartwarming.

My new plan is to eventually start my PhD in Canada, where I currently work.

Husnah Madhy: From Tanzania. Studying in Manchester. Looking at Master's Programs in Canada.

Husnah Madhy says, since Brexit, she's felt less safe in the U.K. (Husnah Madhy)

My name is Husnah Madhy, I grew up in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

My first choice was Canada for university, but I realized I could not study law there without an undergraduate degree. (In some countries, you can go straight to law school after high school.)

So I chose to go to the the University of Manchester in the U.K., where I've just finished my first year. I hope to continue on to grad school in Canada.

Since Brexit, it seems there's been a rise in tension here, especially for black, minority ethnicity and Muslim communities. The U.K. does not seem friendly to foreigners, to be honest.

After the terror attacks, I feel less safe than before. I keep on thinking: why does one person's mistake reflect on all of us? I wear my headscarf, and I know I am a possible target. Some friends who use the trains or buses tell me they have experienced hate crimes. I'm told to be vigilant at all times.

When British Prime Minister Theresa May gave her speech after the London Attacks, it seemed to me that she was condemning the whole Muslim community rather than the "terrorists" themselves. Why should I lose my identity in fear of persecution through no fault of my own?

Before I even started really researching universities, I felt the Canadian "vibes" were more positive.

Why should I lose my identity in fear of persecution through no fault of my own?- Husnah Madhy

I have family and friends who are either living or studying in Canada, and they all love it. The news makes it seems that Canada is so accepting to foreigners.

All this fear has pressed me to want to learn more about politics. One day I hope to make change and increase the possibilities for more people.

Hiba Sarfraz: From Pakistan. Lives in Rawalpindi. Starting a Bachelors of Arts at the University of Toronto.

Hiba Sarfraz says she wanted to apply somewhere she felt safe. (Hiba Sarfraz)

Canada was my first preference, because I used to live in Canada.

I'm a Canadian citizen, and I have family in Canada as well.

I didn't really want to go to the U.S. especially because of the Islamophobia I hear about on the news.

A few of my distant relatives live in the U.S. and, since last year, they've been having problems coming back to Pakistan. This scared me from applying to the U.S.

I wanted to apply somewhere I feel safe.

I have cousins studying in Canada, and they told me it's a very safe place. It's a very multicultural country. There's a lot of different people that you get to meet.

Shadi Heidarifar: From Iran. Lives in Tehran. Starting a Master's Program at University of Western Ontario.

Shadi Heidarifar went from knowing "almost nothing" about Canada to accepting an offer from the University of Western Ontario. (Shadi Heidarifar)

Before the election, the U.S. was my first option to study after finishing my Bachelors in Iran. I wanted to study philosophy at New York University. The travel ban made me feel I would not get a visa for the U.S. on time.

Instead, I will start my MA at the University of Western Ontario in September.

I, as an Iranian student, tried so hard to continue my education in the U.S. Why should I and other Iranians be viewed as terrorists?

I feel, at least for now, that I'm safer in Canada, but I hope things change in the U.S.

Before the ban, I knew almost nothing about Canada, but in the process of applying for and getting my visa, I found out how talented students are welcome and get respect from there.

I hope every nation and government understands that people in the six nations and Iran are not involved in terrorism. We are not a threat to the national security of any country.


Sana Malik is a journalist and founder of This is Worldtown, a platform for women of colour storytellers.


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