“You have to be a doctor, engineer, or lawyer.”
Us first or second-generation immigrants hear this on a daily basis when we’re nearing the time in which we embark on our career paths. We feel that, as children of immigrants or as immigrants ourselves, our families sacrifice so much so that we could succeed, be happy, healthy, and never have to worry.
However, there is a limit to where we should let their decisions and aspirations dictate our future, else we put ourselves on a path to unhappiness, and before long, we may be unable to recognize our own identity.
As a first-generation, Egyptian-Canadian woman, I have heard this countless of times from a parent, and some extended family members as well. Nearly six years ago, I was coerced by one of my parents to study engineering. I went into it trying to find ways to like it. The signs that my attempts were failing were there, though. My grades dropped despite me trying my best. I got really sick nearly every year that I was in the faculty, to the point I was hospitalized each time.
In October, after yet another health problem that lead to two hospitalizations, I decided that I had had enough. I wanted to pursue something that mixed my love for writing and storytelling with social justice. I redid my portfolio and decided to apply to a program in journalism. It’s a competitive program, and despite this, within a month I found out that I had been accepted. This September, I will start my Bachelor’s of Journalism at (arguably) Canada’s best school for journalism.
As Muslim women, we are told to obey our parents above all else. I have always been a parent-pleaser; making sure I was well-behaved, achieving high grades and contributing to society in a positive way. I know I am not the only one that was up against an “insistent” parent. We are placed into situations where we risk our familial relationships if, or when, we pursue education and career paths we choose on our own, for ourselves.
Alaa AlKhatib Abbas, from Mississauga, Ontario, has had a slightly different experience regarding her studies and career path. “I never believed in myself, career-wise. When the discussion came up in high school, I was told I should pick something easy and close to home because I’m just going to get married anyway and not use my degree.”
Women like Alaa are told the opposite of what I was told. Although I did get married before I finished school, it was to my family’s dismay at first. They were worried I wouldn’t finish my studies or succeed. For both Alaa and I, we got married while in school, but both of us have supportive spouses that actually encourage us to succeed. Through my conversation with Alaa, I found out that we both ended up doing better in school when we were engaged or married.
There is a huge problem in dictating a women’s career choice. As Muslim and/or racialized people, we have to work harder to continuously prove we have the skills, just to get the same, if not less, recognition. Many people, including our parents, are hard set against any fields of study other than the “traditional” ones like medicine or engineering. There seems to be a clouded belief that these long-established fields are the only worthy paths to choose.
I know for myself, I may have disappointed one parent and countless members of my extended family because I decided not to continue with my engineering degree, and I accept that. No human is perfect, and in times like these, we need to pursue our passions and live our lives on our terms, not someone else’s.