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From Iranian Engineer to Canadian Architect


Highlight Communication’s blog is prepared by a refugee journalist who fled from her home during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. Through her eyes, we see a unique perspective on integration into Canada as she shares her own and her interviewee’s experiences.

By Shirin Azad

Bio: Noor is an Intern architect. She was born and grew up in Tehran, Iran and moved to Edmonton in 2008, relocating to Vancouver in 2017. She has worked in Edmonton and Vancouver in Home Builder Companies and Architectural firms.

I came to Canada May 28, 2008. I arrived in Edmonton and my sister was here to welcome me. The first day was great and so new but as I grew up in Tehran, where the city is so busy compared to Edmonton, I was shocked by all the quietness. In 2013, the price of oil dropped and many people lost their jobs. That’s why I decided to move to Vancouver in 2017.

No, although I studied a mix of engineering and architecture in my home country, EGBC is just for engineering. They don’t count architecture as a part of engineering. Instead, I followed the route toward architecture and it hasn’t been easy. First, I took some classes to update my resume and be able to have professional interview job skills, and then started to improve my English. Next, I started to gain computer skills for designing. That’s how I started working in Home Builders Company. At that time, I decided to evaluate my certification. I had to pass a six month course at Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and I received an A+, which meant I could be accepted as a member of Architectural Association of Alberta as an Intern Architect.
Noor points out that she is not still an architect. “If I want to become a professional Canadian architect, I have to take the Canadian Architecture Exam (ExAC) to get started as a Canadian architect.”

While I was studying, I was hired by a well-known company in Alberta and fortunately they accepted that I started my position when I completed a one year Technical Design course.
It wasn’t easy to do the two interviews, first with the manager and then with CEO/owner of the company, but all the time I was very self- confident because can trust my knowledge in this field. Fortunately, I got the job offer and started in 2011 in Edmonton.

I worked in my family company, so I could work for there during I was looking for my professional career. I have Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture and Master’s Degree in City Planning and Urban Design, the Canada Architectural Certification Board (CACB), Certificate in Principals of Construction Documentation (PCD), Certificate in AutoCAD and Revit, and some management courses, and more. I also believe that having connections with other organizations and groups, as well as having a degree and certification, is important. Right now, I am a member of Architectural Institute of British Columbia as an Intern Architect.

I had no big problem with my English because I had to take IELTS tests when I immigrated to Canada as a skilled worker. A few months later, I had two interviews with City of Edmonton and Alberta Infrastructure and the interviewers told me that “my English level is acceptable” because they can understand that English is my second language and they need to recognize my professional skills. First, I need to get to know Canadian culture as much as possible in order to gain a lot of experience from the community here. I am always very comfortable with the whole level of the interview.

Obviously, it is different from Iran. I was working at architectural firms and teaching at the university, and also published some articles about architecture and urban designing. Most of my experiences were as an Architect & Urban Designer, project manager and researcher. Due to lack of my networking in Canada, I couldn’t achieve the high position the same as I had before I came to Canada. However I never lost my hopefulness and my confidence and I have to attempt to find the level job which I desire to catch any time.

Architectural career is very high status in Iran, which is a historical country with a very rich culture and smart architectural design buildings. My major responsibility was designing residential, educational, industrial, and institutional work as well as multi-functional buildings, although I am working mostly on residential buildings in Canada. On the other hand, an important aspect that I have to address is that Canadian buildings have a set of accurate details of excellent quality and full compliance with building codes, bylaw and regulations.

Some academic disciplines have the same skills in most parts of the world such as computer science and mechanical engineering. But architecture has different aspects all over the world: it depends on technology, climate and culture in each country. For example, metal is mostly used in Iran, but wood is the first material used to build a residence in Canada. On the other hand, metal mines are abundant in Iran, although wood reserves in Iran are less than in Canada. Another reason for the difference in design is that Iran is located in a hot and dry climate and most of Canada is cold. The bottom line is that if most of your careers are outside of Canada, it is not easy, even if you live and have experience in different Canadian cities, some companies still emphasize that you have to have experience in the city which they are located.

At first, I was not completely familiar with the whole process of doing a project in a Canadian company. Secondly, I was always a project manager and it was not easy for me to work at a hands-on level. And thirdly, I used to work all my time except lunch, and after a few months of getting to know my co-workers, I began to enjoy working alongside them: working hard is part of the Canadian work environment. They create a pleasant atmosphere. We are human beings and we should have a good and healthy life emotionally and physically, even at work.

The first important point is language and is a top priority. The second point is to have self-confidence, your knowledge and experience.
Also, whenever you find a job, improve your skills in many ways that affect your career, just do not try to stay at the same level. You need to constantly update yourself and gain knowledge to be prepared for any changes that may occur to you. You have to think that there is no guarantee of staying in that job even for a higher position. You need to constantly update your skills.
And also try to adjust to the Canadian environment, besides, you will never forget your culture, including language and customs.

Shirin Azad is a pen name for Highlight Communication’s blog writer. She is a former refugee whose life was threatened in her home country because of her journalism work. We are protecting her identity.