Nabila Barakat
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Advocate. Advisor. Friend.

Nabila Barakat helps international students adjust to Canadian culture.

Nabila Barakat remembers the moment things changed. About ten years ago, she was working as a career coach at the London Public Library in London, Ontario, and she approached a man who had been going to the employment centre for several months, but had never asked for help. She learned that as an engineer, he had been a qualified person back home and was frustrated that he couldn’t find a professional job in Canada without getting licensed. He didn’t understand why, after coming all this way, he had to become licensed when he was already an engineer. Nabila explained to him that it’s important to get his license because it means he has the requirements to do his job safely in Canada — requirements that might be different than those in his home country. “That small difference made a huge impact in his mind,” she says. 

Nabila referred the man to an agency that could help him apply for his licence, which he got, and found a job. Later, he introduced his entire family to Nabila at the employment centre. His wife thanked her, and told her she didn’t just make an impact on her husband, she made an impact on their whole family. Nabila had shivers. That’s when she decided to change her career path. 
 
She had previously wanted to work for a government immigration agency because she speaks English and French, so she got a Law Clerk Diploma which led to her job at the library, but at this point, she decided she wanted to work directly with the immigrants instead. Today, Nabila is the international learner engagement and communications specialist at Bow Valley College. She counsels international students, helps them integrate into society; and writes content for international communications, newsletters, and the website. The role combines all of her academic and professional interests — Nabila has studied psychology, has a bachelor’s degree in communications, and has worked as a community liaison officer for Directions for Immigrants, which helps internationally educated professionals get professional jobs and accreditation. 

At the College, international students come to Nabila to get support with adjusting to Canadian culture. For instance, she advocates for students dealing with challenges related to health, relationships, and money, including illness, divorce, and low income. She might refer the student to one of the many community agencies she got to know from her time at Directions for Immigrants. Or, she might educate them on the permits they need to study or work here in Canada. 

Since many of these students don’t have the support system here in Canada that they have back home, Nabila also acts as a resource on a more personal level. “I’m more like a friend to international students than an authority person,” says Nabila. 

She advises students on how to cultivate their social life too. She suggests joining clubs, such as the international student club, volunteering, or attending fitness classes. Nabila also coordinates on-campus events like International Education Week. Gabriella Khourieh is an international student who became president of the international student club after Nabila recommended it. “It helped me grow as a person,” says Gabriella. “I used to be a shy, quiet person. I became more social and outgoing. Now, wherever I go, I know I’ll be okay.” 

Amy Schalin Weatherall, manager, global campus initiatives and international learner development adds that Nabila’s role is about getting involved with our students, creating a rapport, and helping the team become more proactive in anticipating international students’ needs, instead of waiting for students to come to them.   

By seeking Nabila’s help, a divorced English Language Learning student who felt unemployable discovered a path to supporting herself and her two children. “Every time I’m able to help someone achieve their dreams and succeed in Canada, there’s an emotional reward,” she says. 
     
To book an appointment with Nabila, call the International office at 403-410-3476. For more information on studying at Bow Valley College as an international student, visit our International Education page. 


Posted on May 9, 2019

Story by Julie-Anne Cleyn, photos by Chris Bolin


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