International Studies

International Studies grad student finds her stride supporting Canadian newcomers

October 23, 2019

Yara Younis knows firsthand that coming to a new country requires strong resolve. Younis, a Palestinian refugee, travelled from Dubai to Vancouver in 2018 to begin her studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

She found the Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) program particularly appealing because of its multidisciplinary and open-minded nature, as well as the positive and engaging efforts made by the MAIS management and faculty. But despite her enthusiasm for the program, Younis admits adjusting to life in Canada was extremely difficult. Living on her own for the first time and experiencing culture shock, she began to withdraw and feel socially isolated.

“I dealt with a lot of covert and overt racism, discrimination in gaining employment, and pressure to assimilate,” Younis says. She noticed a distinct decline in her mental health.

Over time, Younis found her ground, by building both strong personal and professional networks through MAIS. Younis found support and meaningful connections with her classmates, and importantly, also met people outside of the International Studies (IS) program. On recommendation from IS faculty, she was introduced to SFU’s Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies, where she now works as a research assistant.

This work has helped her engage with the diverse public sphere of Vancouver. While Younis aspires to eventually complete her PhD and begin teaching, she first aims to make her mark in this community with several projects of her own.

Last summer, Younis launched her own independent consultancy which she claims was made possible by the confidence she earned through her master’s studies. Younis is proud to have won contracts assisting governmental organizations as well as local non-profits in policy writing and briefing. Now, she combines her policy background with her personal experience to assist other Canadian newcomers following in her footsteps.

“I've come to learn [my experience] is common for students and immigrants who come from Arab and Islamic cultures,” she explains. “I'm working with a group of amazing people as part of Beyond Borders to kickstart a program for new refugee students and immigrants.” The group provides space for newcomers to build social connections, combatting the all-too-common feelings of isolation. They also partner with experts in law and employment to provide training, resources and information to empower those struggling to adjust.

“We're in stage one of developing this space” she states. Having found her niche in Vancouver, Younis is nobly providing the structure for others to do the same. “We have six months of planning and implementation to go!”