2022-05-10T19:09:41-04:00Jun 19, 2020|

Coming to Canada to survive, and discovering how to thrive: Saeed’s story

From an interview with Saeed Hashmei, project management, RBC.


In Afghanistan, Saeed helped run a large government-sponsored project to get salary funding to police and army personnel battling the Taliban in remote areas of the war-torn country. In December, 2016, he fled to Canada and landed in Vancouver. Saeed arrived knowing little about how things worked here. Still, with a thirst for understanding, and unwavering determination, he set out to build a new life and reunite with his wife and two daughters in Canada.


I came to Canada because I had to – to survive, that was my only goal when I escaped from Afghanistan. But when I arrived in Canada, I knew that having survived, I could also thrive. My plan was to upgrade my skills, learn how banking and telecommunication worked in Canada, get a job in my industry, and bring my family here. When I landed, I didn’t know where to start or even how to start. Things were not crystal clear on day one. And I can assure you that it may take six months to a year to start getting things straight. 

Come with a curious mind and learn from anybody and everybody

It’s not easy for an individual to uproot and re-settle anywhere in the world, and Canada is no exception. I learned from everybody. For example, in terms of immigration, there are several agencies and federal government-funded employment programs. What helped me the most was that I was completely open to everything.

I was curious to explore how things worked in my specific industry within Canada. For example, I went to the Bank of Canada website and skimmed through the banking regulations. I came to know how many regulators there are, what the major banks are in Canada, what services they offer, and what kind of people they’re looking for. I started my research on the internet, but I didn’t stay there. 

I visited banks and telecommunication companies too. I wanted to get as much information as I could. Opening my first bank account took almost two hours. I had a chance to speak to people face to face, so I asked them as many questions as I could. If they couldn’t answer a question, I made a note and would try to answer it another time.

For me, it was a struggle and rewarding at the same time – rewarding in the sense that within three to four months of landing in Canada, I already got a job: it was a short-term, contract job, but it was a job.

Read more about our guide to the Canadian job market

Know yourself, know your goals, network and carry a notebook

Self-awareness is the first thing a newcomer needs. In my case, when I came to Canada, I thought that I was a master of everything and that I knew everything, and I didn’t need anybody to train me. I felt I didn’t need anyone’s advice because academically I have master’s degrees, I have bachelor’s degrees, and I have ten plus years of experience. So I thought I would be a straight fit for any organization, be it banking or telecommunications.

But of course, that was not the case. Not because I was in Canada: it would have been the case anywhere in the world. I started working on self-awareness. I assessed who I am, what I can be in six months, what I can be in three years, what I can be in four years.

I had built a global network of connections, when I was in Afghanistan. Over my ten years of experience, I worked with major international banks and financial service providers, which gave me exposure to how the financial industry works in the world. And every time I chatted with them, I was building connections – not just for that business opportunity while I was in Afghanistan, but also a long-lasting connection to grow as a professional.

Connections will help get you to the interview. But at the end of the day, you as an individual should be prepared for what the industry demands. You need to have the right skills to make sure that you meet and exceed the job requirements. At the end of the day, whoever is doing the hiring needs to know that they have the right person for the job. And if you happen to have all of the above, they will find you.

“My advice to newcomers is write down your goals”

Although I was still finding my way, I had things planned out in a notebook which I still have. I made a list of priorities in front of me, compared to the resources that I had in hand and what I needed to achieve them. I prioritized them one by one: The top priority was immigration for my family; second, was finding a job, and third was to explore opportunities in Canada as an entrepreneur or investor. 

I made a list of actions as priorities and then listed out the resources and opportunities that they had with them. Every day I did something to get me closer to my goals. Things did not happen by accident; they happened because they were on my priority list.

Do the math to find your place in Canada

Based on the research I did about Canada (the greatest country on earth, in my opinion), it all breaks down to numbers-based decisions. Every time you make a business or personal or professional decision, you need to break down your research in terms of numbers.

For example, Canada has a population of approximately 37 million people. Based on my limited research, nearly 40 percent of all Canadians live in Ontario. It is projected that in the next 20 years, 60% of the Ontario population will live in the greater Toronto area (GTA).

Whenever you have a large number of people, they need lots of services. Banks and telecommunications are at the forefront of what people need in terms of service. A day doesn’t go by without a transaction or a phone call, right? So if you have a large number of phone calls and bank transactions in a province and you happen to be a professional within those industries, your chances of finding the right job in Ontario is greater. That’s why I chose to live in Toronto. 

Curious to know more about settling in Ontario? Read our introduction to Ontario for newcomers

On reuniting with my family in Canada

The experience of reuniting with your family is impossible to describe. Even if English was my first language, I could not find the words in a dictionary. It’s the kind of moment that redefines you as a person. It introduces you to a new version of yourself on how resilient you can be.

Initially, I practiced a lot before going to the airport to meet them. I said to myself,
“You’re going to be strong, and you’re not going to cry.” But after all, we are human. That moment when we reunited in Toronto – seeing my wife and kids after being apart for three years, I couldn’t stop my tears. They were natural. They were real. They were tears of joy.

Coming to Canada is always a good decision. Being successful here depends on how you go about it.

I feel very fortunate to be in Canada, and I don’t think I’ll be able to give back to the level that I have been given. I am thankful for the support I have received from Canadians, especially the taxpayers – because the training that I received was often government-funded. Canadians are hospitable people: they welcomed me with big hearts and smiling faces. They supported me every step of the way, in one way or another. Had it not been for Canada and Canadians, I might not have survived.

As a person, professional, and a father of two kids, I remind myself of my responsibilities. And I’m pretty sure that if I stick to my plan, remember who I am, and what I need to do on a day-to-day basis, I’ll be able to achieve my goals. Because I am in Canada, and I’m thriving now.


Resources for Refugees to Canada: With the current refugee crisis unfolding in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, the Arrive team wants to extend whatever help we can to those who have been uprooted from their homes and must now begin their new lives in a strange country. We’ve compiled a list of resources that may help people begin to adjust, and understand how things work in Canada. No matter where they’re from or what their circumstances are, we want every newcomer to Canada to have the tools they need to make a new life in Canada.