#RoadFromRyerson

SYED MOHAMMAD MAHMOOD | International Student Woes

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Let me lead you through the life as a graduating international student. About a week ago I applied for my Post Graduation Work Permit. In Canada, after completing a four year degree I am eligible for a three year open work permit to stay and work here. Thankfully, there is a high success rate for approval of this visa. However, there is always this anxiety that, god forbid, ‘what happens if I don’t receive this visa?’ Imagine my follow-up blog a couple of months from now “Where is Mohammad now?” The answer could be that I am halfway across the globe!

As an international student, I am expected to have a backup plan, a place to go if I don’t stay in Canada, career prospects abroad and such. The scariest thing for me now is that I don’t. If I were to leave Canada, I would head to Pakistan, my country of citizenship and the place my parents were born and raised. Although Pakistan is my country of citizenship, I never lived there. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia; a place I need a visa to visit. My backup plan would involve me travelling to a country I haven’t been to in over six years, whose local trends and environment are foreign to me. Imagine the stress of having these thoughts in the back of your mind. Again, thankfully, there is a high success rate on the work permit application, so this stress is moderated. Eventually, I will have to work on a backup plan. Even after getting a work visa, I will need a plan if I do not get permanent residency or can’t renew my visa in three years. I plan to work on this over the next few years but I am not ready for it now.

My tiny mom who tucks under my chin. She didnt let go for about five minutes or more
My tiny mom who tucks under my chin. She didnt let go for about five minutes or more

The other thing about my life is that my family is all over the place. My parents are back home in Saudi Arabia. My sister lives in Wisconsin and is moving further away to California. My brother lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. With these long distances, contact with my family is mostly via Line and Facebook Messenger. We talk weekly and chat randomly in between. I am blessed to have found friends that are like family in Canada, but nothing compares to the real thing. I am currently in Grand Rapids visiting my brother and sister-in-law. This weekend my parents flew in to Chicago airport. My sister picked them up from the airport and brought them over for a family reunion. The last time all of us were together was a year ago, and that had been after around a decade of not having a full family reunion. We had family gatherings but it used to be either my brother or sister present at a time, never all of us under one roof. So this is a big deal. My parents were exhausted from their 13 hour flight and called it a night early. The rest of us stayed up late recalling embarrassing stories and childhood memories. Most of our the days to follow will probably be similar family time, with long reminiscent conversations, board games and mom’s cooking.

La Grande Vitesse
La Grande Vitesse

This blog lacks pictures, so I shall tell you about what I did in Grand Rapids before my parents arrived. During last year’s visit, I saw the major sites, the local museum, the grand river, Rosa Parks circle etc. This time I wanted to do a more thorough tour. I researched various places online then planned a full day of walking in the city. I posted on Reddit seeking tour guides or locals who wanted to hangout. Through that I had two responses. One offering to show me an indoor shooting range to get a “Really American introduction”. I haven’t had the time to co-ordinate this but might go sometime during my stay. The

The oldest building in the area built in 1836
The oldest building in the area built in 1836

other person, Steve Zaagman, is a local TV station WZZM13’s creative news director and reporter. Having been born and raised in the area, he offered to give an insider’s view of the city. Steve is also a significant member in the community running weekly public swing dancing classes in the community with a Guinness world record for the largest swing dance in the world. Steve was also the North American Settlers of Catan champion of 2006. Suffice it to say, Steve was an interesting character. He showed me a few behind the curtains things such as the underground area below Rosa Parks Circle. The circle is made into an ice rink in the winter and I got to see the machines that create the ice. I met the owner of the Harris Building and the event space within. There and all through the city were murals and remnants of past ArtPrize exhibits. Art Prize is an annual three week exhibit with international artists held annually in Grand Rapids. In addition to these sites, we saw a professional ballet recital; the fish ladder; a local ramen shop and a doughnut shop (In which Steve was a part investor) and more. It was a great experience and I got to see a whole new side of the city.

My next blog will include stories of my planned trip to Wisconsin and Chicago. I am hoping there will be lots of stories to share.

The first Ramen store in Grand Rapids
The first Ramen store in Grand Rapids

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