Why one recent immigrant still pursues his education, despite the $50k price tag

Seventy-eight percent of the projected one million job openings in the province will require post-secondary education yet the price to students has never been higher with the BC government cutting investments. This fall we asked students to tell us their college and university stories. Ali Sekandar Arif shared with us the sacrifices he and his family have made for him to get an education.

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When I saw the Open the Doors contest I felt this is my chance to share my story and my experiences which date back to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1992, the year I was born. I vaguely remember the presence of the Taliban, and attending a few classes in my hometown before the peak of the war. I can recall feeling frightened walking to school through the rubbles with my blue backpack. I had one piece of paper, a broken pencil, and a piece of bread.                                                                                                

Fast forward a few months, and my family escaped to Pakistan to live with relatives. We were all living in a two-bedroom apartment: my cousins and my siblings, total of 9 children, my two aunts, my parents and my grandma. I saw my family migrate from country to country before finally moving here. When asked at the consulate why my parents wanted to move to Canada, they had one answer: “For the future and betterment of our children.”

Experiencing war and being displaced from our home took its toll on my family, particularly my parents who suffered depression, PTSD, and anxiety after years of doing whatever it took to care for us. The basic survival needs were often hard for them to attain. I remember on a trip to the market with my father witnessing a Taliban member whipping and torturing an old man for not having a long beard and corpses noticed corpses lining the ditches. Witnessing this would make me numb and speechless for days, and it had its implications on all of my family members.

I’m now in my fourth year at Simon Fraser University (SFU) pursuing a BA, majoring in Criminology in hopes of attending law school next year. I look at my life today and can’t be grateful enough, being a student at one of the finest universities in Canada and having the opportunity to go to school, not just elementary, but secondary, post-secondary, college (Langara), and now university (SFU). 

The student loans have piled up, and financially it takes a toll on me sometimes taking care of myself, working, engaging in the community, and being there for my parents, widowed uncle, and girlfriend.

Education in 2016 is different than before due to the lack of jobs for graduates, financial obligations, loans, debts, and also the motivation and inspiration to get through the hard times. Moreover, I believe that this is just that start, I know that if I am accepted to law school next year I will be adding another $50,000 to the current $50,000 loan I have already accumulated trying to build a better life for me and my family. 

It all gets overwhelming some days, but what drives me are my parents, who sacrificed everything for us to have the opportunity of education in a prosperous country like Canada. Even though I was born in Afghanistan, Canada will always be home to me because of all the opportunities it has given me and continues to provide for everyone. My mother never got the opportunity to go to school due to the patriarchal Afghan culture towards women in the 1960s. My father only completed high school. At home when I'm studying or reading my textbooks, my mother tells me “enjoy, study well,” and gives me the look as if I hit a jackpot. In some ways, I have.

You can let the BC government know how important this issue is by adding your name along with thousands of other British Columbians who are pledging to vote for post-secondary education. There’s an election coming up on May 9th, and we need a change for BC students.