By Nabeela Ahsan
Going back to school is not for the faint of heart. For many of us originating from South Asian countries and having seen the rigorous pressures of schooling back home, education in Canada is a treat. The sheer choice of courses and the resources available are simply stupendous. I am a strong advocate for women empowering themselves through education and breaking the rigid stereotypes that limit our potential.
You may opt to return to educational programs for pleasure or for economic development. Not many are able or inclined to study for the sheer pleasure of it. Usually adult or mature students are looking for training to gain entry in a professional field or to enhance career possibilities.
Researching what to study
Whatever the reasons, the educational journey begins with the fundamental “what, where and how” questions. As with most endeavors in Canada, the rule of thumb is lots of research. Whether for a year or four, going back to school is a commitment and therefore it is important that your interest is sustained in the program. Post-secondary education is a financial investment so there has to be a return on your investment.
Employability of your degree
There are government websites that can help with your research and I strongly suggest looking at blogs and reviews of the programs of your choice. Try requesting information interviews with recruiters to ask about employability down the road. For example, five years ago Human Resource was a rewarding career, however after the economic downturn of 2008, small and medium companies eliminated HR positions completely and larger companies downsized their departments. On the other hand, the increasing trend in graphic media and advertisements has lead to an enhanced demand for Graphic Designers.
Deciding on a school
Depending on your field of study, you may simply need a place to help you prepare for your standardized exams, the hands-on experience of a college or the depth and breadth of a university education. The program is only as good as the speed with which you can gain entry in your career. Therefore take a close look at internships (usually unpaid) or co-op (usually paid) opportunities being offered by the institution. One of the tremendous benefits of going back to school is the network that you can build on campus. I found the Maclean’s university rankings an invaluable resource when deciding where to study.
Challenges and what matters
The “how” of the educational journey is the most complex part and is also what the success of your education depends on. The more meticulous you are at this stage, the more relieved you will be once you are a student. The three key considerations are: family, self and financing.
While I do believe that traditional gender roles that dictate that women take care of their families belong to the past, the reality is that we have to ensure that our children, the elderly and spouses are well taken care of. Women who succeed in continuing their education are supported by their husbands at home.
Having a family and a home to look after is challenging but the sense of accomplishment when you graduate is unimaginable!
Taking Care of Yourself
Perhaps the most important and often neglected factor here is you. Going back to school means your mental, spiritual and physical health above all else has to be in top form. So take out those multi-vitamins, eat healthy, sleep well and get some exercise. When I went back to university for my Master’s degree, I found myself stealing a little time here and there in the day for myself. It might just be a moment at the bus stop to relax or a warm cup of chai. Find the people in your life who are positive and who lift your spirits and avoid the ones who drag you down, even if they are your near and dear ones. Your success hinges on your well-being.
In all of this process, a key stressor is funding your education. This may not be an issue for everyone but when I received confirmation of my admission, I was broke and taking out a student loan (OSAP) was the only route for me. Once you are in the program, there are grants and bursaries you can apply to. The Macleans guide will give you a rough estimate of how much you will be spending in your program. If you feel you will be able to scrape through with the tuition fee, be advised that costs tend to run over with textbooks, travel and even your caffeine fixes.
Planning ahead to ward off Guilt
Another stressor that you will encounter as soon as you start your program is GUILT. It lays heavy on your heart and it constantly questions your right to do something constructive for yourself. GUILT has a partner- OBLIGATION. Be prepared for their attacks and arm yourself. You will feel guilty when you cannot spend as much time with your family. You will feel obligated when a parent, friend or neighbor has to look after your kids. Above all else, have a contingency plan for when a family member gets sick because there is nothing that will make you more miserable than leaving behind a sick family member.
There will be days when you will question yourself and days when you feel you just cannot go on. The good news is: you can. When you make your mind up about something, the whole universe can conspire against you, if God is on your side you will make it happen. This is the time to connect with your faith. When I was studying, I would listen to empowering podcasts, uplifting songs- anything that would lift my spirit. Now social media sites have made it easy to connect with people who have shared experiences so remember to communicate when you are overwhelmed.
You CAN do it!
Taking care of a family is a full time job and going back to school is like juggling two full time positions. The only way not to drop the ball is to be extremely organized. These days every phone, laptop and tablet comes with some version of organizers and reminder apps. Use them. Plan every event, every meal and shopping trip to the last detail and complete 90% of the prep work on the weekends. When all your planning and organizing pays off and when the little time you spend with your family is quality time; when your house is not clean but your assignments are complete- make a cup of tea, sit back and exhale.
About the author:
Nabeela Ahsan is a mom of three, living and working in Missisauga. In her free time, she likes to watch “Dr. Who” with her boys and “Two Broke Girls” with her daughter. She has closet dreams of doing her PhD. She has co-foundered a company InterCloDesigns that provides sustainable clothing aid in countries affected by disaster.