A single Google search with the terms “Syrian refugee” brings up heart-breaking images, policy debates, and controversial comments. What also pops up on the screen are statistics —statistics declaring the rising death toll, the current length of the ongoing Syrian civil war, and especially, the growing number of refugees in Europe, the U.S., and Canada. Nazar Poladian is one of those numbers in Canada—but he is more than just a statistic.

Violence had been brewing in Syria for a while, but many consider March 2011 to be the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

“Overall, there was tension—everything was not good,” says Poladian.

At this point, Poladian was pursuing a bachelor’s in business administration, with a major in marketing, at the University of Kalamoon in Syria.

“We had lots of problems within the university campus,” says Poladian. “A couple of times, our university was closed because our students started [having] objections […] A couple of times, the military entered our campus—they caught those students who were trying to do the objections against the government.”

Poladian’s involvement in politics worried his parents. While he didn’t consider himself to be greatly involved with politics, he does agree that his actions could have been considered dangerous, given the circumstances in Syria at that point.

“When I started on social media, writing things, my parents were [so scared],” he says.

His parents recommended that he stop posting such strong opinions on social media, or that he move to Lebanon immediately.

“We saw a couple of friends and the problems they faced just because of writing on social media,” Poladian says.

In 2012, when Poladian was in his third year of undergraduate studies, he left Syria.

“I went to Lebanon. [I was] supposed to stay there for a couple of months and then come back to Syria.”

However, he remained in Lebanon, as the situation in Syria did not improve.

“I tried a lot to come back to Syria, because I had one semester and a half to graduate,” he says.

In Lebanon, Poladian stayed with his aunt and various family members as he worked full-time to support himself. He also studied part-time at Haigazian University in Beirut, where he was forced to restart his degree, as transfer credits could not be applied in his case.

Poladian gave a talk at the 2016 TEDx U of T event, titled, “Refugees connecting the world”.
Poladian gave a talk at the 2016 TEDx U of T event, titled, “Refugees connecting the world”.

However, Poladian was once again unable to complete his degree—despite being so close to graduation—as he moved to Canada as a part of the Resettlement Assistance Program  in September 2015.

“When I was a senior year student again, the thing happened and I moved to Canada,” laughs Poladian, as he points out that this unfortunate event of being unable to complete his degree has happened twice.

Immediately upon arrival, Poladian got involved with various non-profits and worked professionally in various aspects of digital marketing and banking.

For example, earlier this year, Poladian and a group of Syrian expatriates together launched Difugees, which, according to Poladian, is a “socio-digital consulting agency that aims to help humanitarian organizations to build an efficient digital and communications [strategy].”

Poladian is also involved with the QUDURAT network, which is an initiative provided by the Arab Community Centre in Toronto. In English, Qudurat translates roughly into capability, as the QUDURAT network aims to tap into newcomer potential by highlighting their capabilities.

At first, this initiative started off as a simple job fair, but now it has become much larger and evolved into a ‘network’. This May 2016, over 280 Middle Eastern newcomers had the chance to network with over 80 different organizations and professionals.

“I wanted to help other Syrians, professionals that landed here. They didn’t have the experience to connect professionally,” he says.

“I’m an extrovert. I go to people, I talk to people, and I build networks. That helped me a lot get the job, and even get into U of T. So I was trying to share my experience with other people by organizing this job fair.”

Today, Poladian is an account manager at RBC, where he works full-time to support his family. Despite his growing success in his professional life, Poladian remains intent on completing his degree.

“I’m working at RBC full-time. As a new immigrant, and someone without a [bachelor’s degree], for people, [this] was good,” explains Poladian. “For me, I know that I’m thirsty. I want to learn more skills. I want to go deep into the field that I really love. Because after working on a project, even [both as a volunteer] and as a paid job, I realized that I’m good at doing things but I’m not good at knowing the theory behind it. […] The main reason that I want to go back to school is to build skills that I need—especially from U of T [as] it’s an education hub, an academic hub.”

Poladian remarks that the “Canadian government gave us the PR card more easily than accepting to transfer my education.”

However, Poladian did find his way back to university education—through the 2016 TEDx U of T event.

“When the TEDx came up […] I was just suggesting to come and volunteer, and [then] I ended up giving a talk there,” says Poladian.

Poladian’s talk (“Refugees connecting the world”) focused on his work with various social organizations across the world, especially Difugees.

“Fortunately, the people that were [organizing the event]—they were all from the UTM campus. They were a part of the Digital Enterprise and Management program, from CCIT. They were talking about the programs that they were involved in, and I [thought] ‘that [this is] what I want to do!’ ” says Poladian.

This September, Poladian will be starting at UTM as a part-time student.

Poladian chose UTM for three main reasons. The first being that the Digital Enterprise and Management program is his dream program. Secondly, Poladian was awarded one of the six $10,000 scholarships from the U of T Scholars-At-Risk program, which helps ease any financial burdens. But lastly, and most importantly, it was the fact that his previous education could be put towards his current degree as transfer credits that sealed the deal for him.

“Whatever I am saying about the transfer [credits] and the scholarship—it was all because of Adam [Fraser]. He did all those things; even I was not aware of how much he was helping. Without Adam, I don’t think [any of this] was possible,” says Poladian.

Adam Fraser is the manager of the UTM Pathways program, which is dedicated to helping mature students (20 years or older), or those who do not meet traditional admission requirements, gain a chance for direct admission into university studies. One of the branches of the program, the Bridging Pathways program, is dedicated to Canadian students who fit this criterion.

“Once they’re admitted, they don’t go to a special bridging class or anything like that. It’s traditional classes […] they’re probably in some of your classes,” says Fraser.

Recently, Fraser looked into data provided by the Canadian government (specifically Citizenship and Immigration Canada) to find Syrian refugees that were located within 80 km of UTM.

“In most cases, research shows that students are only willing to travel up to 80 km to go to an institution,” says Fraser. “[…] So we looked at the population who’s landed here in the area […] and then looked at the age demographics.”

Fraser narrowed down the likely students into four groups.

“The younger ones are going to be most likely going into the Ontario high school system, and then down the road, they may be eligible for university. There’d be those who came who have already completed high school who would be interested in going to university now,” says Fraser.

“There are those who back home may have been in university and would be interested in transferring to university, such as Nazar [Poladian]. And then there are those who graduated, who either want to continue school or be accredited here.”

This research was one of the steps behind the creation of the Syrian Pathways program.

“We’re using the [Bridging Pathways] model to help get students into degree studies,” says Fraser.

“I’ve made a few little tweaks to what already exists and to utilize that pathway or that opportunity to help any Syrian refugees who want to continue on in education, but don’t have the actual documents with them. In some cases—actually, I’ve met with four Syrian refugee students so far—and they’ve all actually had their documents, so we didn’t have to use the pathway necessarily, but it’s been an option for them.”

Fraser additionally comments that Poladian has been a good advocate for the program, as he has been “able to connect us to the population that could benefit from this pathway.”

“People here, they have all the resources, access to lots of technological [and] academic resources. I want to simply make the most out of it,” says Poladian.

“Sometimes you don’t realize what you have unless someone [takes] it from you. You have the resources, so make sure you make the most out of it […] To make the most out of it is the minimum thing [you can do] so you can give back to humanity.”

This article has been corrected from the print edition. The scholarships referred to as being worth $100,000 were actually worth $10,000. A notice will be printed in the September 19, 2016 issue.