New Canadian Media

Commentary by: Mona Mashadi Rajabi in Tehran

I was standing in front of the school’s office and Melody, my daughter, was right beside me. All the children were passing by happily with their parents.

The principal gave me the registration forms and started to talk about the rules and regulations of the school. I was there to register Melody in junior kindergarten.

While I was filling out one of the forms, the principal pointed to an important part and said: “Please write two phone numbers of family members or trusted people, the people whom we can call in case of an emergency.” He continued, “if something comes up, there must be someone other than you and your husband that we can call.”

But, there was no one else to call and it made me nervous. I explained that my family was new in the country and no other family members or trusted friends to call. It was just us, I said, promising to be available Melody needed help. 

My daughter's big moment

I was busy attending preparation classes at university when the big day for Melody arrived. It was her First Day at school. Parents were supposed to be available to accompany their children to help them get ready for a milestone moment in their young lives. Parents were expected to give the children a goodbye kiss and wish them a good First Day at school.

It was a big moment for my daughter, a four-year-old girl who wanted to start the journey of her life, but, sadly, I could not be there to support her.

I had to attend a lecture, so I left home early in the morning and my husband took her to school. I learned that the principal was so surprised because of my absence as I missed the most memorable day of my daughter’s education. It was the day that would never come back and the memory that would not be repeated in the future.

Feeling absent

After a few months, Melody’s teacher invited the parents to talk about their children’s behaviour and performance in school, and I missed that occasion, too. I missed it because I had an exam on the same day and I had to be at the university.

My absence from my daughter’s life sadly continued. She became sick and I was at my office in the university for my teaching assistant job. She attended the school’s Halloween party and I was busy preparing for my mid-term exams.

She started to speak English and I was not there to witness it, she started to learn French and sing some short songs and I was not there to enjoy it, she found friends and I could not be there to celebrate her friendships, she got invited to her friends’ birthday parties and I could not accompany her, and she went to the playgrounds and I was too tired to play along with her.

I was never available for her, as I was either busy at school or tired at home.

My wish list

I was unhappy and unsatisfied deep inside as I was living a dual life. A life of a full time Ph.D. student who had to work all day long and the life of a mother who was supposed to raise a happy and healthy child but was missing all the precious moments of her daughter’s childhood.

It was not just me in this situation. Many international graduate students with children felt the same as they were alone and had no family or close friends around to help them. They were always busy at school and could not attend to the needs of their children. Many of my colleagues felt like a failure as a parent and lived in an unstable emotional and financial situation in Canada.

I thought about alternative solutions that could help parents like myself who were also full-time students.

I wished the university’s educational calendar started one day after the First Day of children’ school. I wished the schoolteacher could give a couple of choices to parents from which they could choose the one that fit their schedule to speak about the children’s performance at school. I wished the university’s teaching schedule was more flexible and professors cared more about graduate students who had a big responsibility as a parent specially when they had to work as a teaching assistant.

Those were the thoughts that occupied my mind, but they remained a wish list.

Finally, an unbalanced life

Unfortunately, I could do little about my circumstances. The university expected me to be a full time student and a failure at school could lead to the termination of my student visa and eventually an order to me to leave Canada. My husband and Melody were my dependent and a change in my status could have changed theirs as well.

So, I, like most of other international graduate students, had to sacrifice my family life in order to stay in Canada on my student visa. This was an unfair deal for a parent graduate student.


Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.  

Published in Education
Monday, 02 October 2017 22:34

Communicating in a New Country

By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran

Communication is more than understanding the words.

I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences. 

It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you. 

Animation film that opened my eyes

I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make. 

One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter. 

I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind. 

A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.  

It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.

For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.

But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed. 

Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation 

Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada. 

Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me. 

At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children. 

Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.” 

She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.

She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together. 

“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made. 

At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.” 

This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada. 

After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before. 

She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill. 

She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.” 

Unique experience

After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.

Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success. 

I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.” 

And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success. 

Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.

This was the time that, I felt like home.

This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.

Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada


Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.

Published in Education

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