Freedom Day, that’s how Clodia remembers the day in April 2008 when she moved to Canada with her kids. Being born in Syria –where women are not considered equal to men and marriage contracts are common– and wanting to pursue a bachelor in civil engineering posed some challenges for her.
Clodia was 19 years old when her uncle brought her a husband. She got married shortly after while attending her first year of university. Arranged marriages are still the norm in Syria, but young Clodia didn’t know at the time that her husband will ask her to quit university and stay home to clean and cook. Clodia, who believes women are as capable of contributing to their society as men, refused to give up on her education but had to put up with the mental abuse of the uneducated husband.
She was one of two females out of forty students in her class, and it was a little challenging and intimidating. One professor told her, ‘not all girls stick around; they drop out the first year.’ Clodia was upset by this comment, but it fuelled her drive to become an engineer even more.
When she was young, Clodia often questioned the power of men over women in the Middle East. She couldn’t understand why women were unable to make their own decisions and always have to be in the shadow of a man –dad, brother or husband. She didn’t want that for her daughter. So, when Clodia graduated, she went to the Canadian Embassy and started the process of applying as a skilled worker.
Little did Clodia know, this process would take seven years. A lot longer than she had expected. While waiting to receive her confirmation of permanent residency, and three months after graduation, Clodia was hired by the Syrian government as a surveyor assistant in the field.
Soon after, she changed roles. She became a draftsman, a position Clodia held for two years. Later, when someone from her department retired, she was promoted to project manager.
When Clodia and her family arrived in Montréal, she felt relieved and happy to be in a country where women have the right to equality and freedom of choice. “When I finally landed on Canadian soil, my first thought was, oh my God, I am a free woman,” Clodia says with a sigh of relief. She didn’t have a good marriage, and this was her chance to leave her husband and start over because divorced women are frowned upon and not socially accepted in the Middle East.
One of the first things she did in Edmonton –where she settled down– was to look for a job as a civil engineer. However, employers wanted someone with good English and both Canadian experience and designation. While visiting a settlement agency, Clodia was told that to work as a civil engineer, she needed to contact the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA).
There, Clodia learnt that to become a licensed engineer in Canada, she needed to complete the following requirements: submit academic documents, demonstrate engineering work experience, meet language requirements, provide proof of good character and complete the Professional Practice Examination (PPE).
Before starting this process, Clodia got her first Canadian job at a lemonade stand at the Edmonton Indy. She worked three days a week during the summer and with the money she received, she bought bicycles for her and her two kids, so that they could move around the city.
In September, Clodia started English as an Additional Language (EAL) at MacEwan University, a full-time program that would help her to improve her English. At the same time, she got a job at a hotel as a front desk clerk three days a week for six months. It was a busy time for Clodia, but it helped her save money towards a deposit for a basement apartment.
As soon as Clodia completed the EAL program, she decided to enroll in the Engineers’ & Technologists’ Integration Program at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN). This is an 11-month program that assists internationally educated engineering professionals like Clodia to rapidly and effectively integrate into the Alberta engineering workplace.
In the meantime, Clodia received news from APEGA. After reviewing her academic documents, she was told she needed to complete additional courses and demonstrate her engineering work experience. To comply with the latter, she not only reported the engineering work experience obtained in Syria, but she also underwent a competency-based assessment (CBA).
“When I was attending the Integration Program, I wanted to take the APEGA courses, but as a single mom with no job, I didn’t have the extra money to pay for the courses. It was at the EMCN when I saw a Windmill Microlending brochure. I contacted Windmill and applied for a loan. The loan was so convenient as it was low interest and allowed me to pay back over time,” recalls Clodia.
The Windmill loan helped her pay the fees for three courses at the University of Alberta. Once she completed them, Clodia got her designation as Engineer-in-Training, which indicated that she had met academic requirements but needed more work experience to qualify as a Professional Engineer.
Clodia needed to find a job where she could be supervised by a licensed engineer who would take professional responsibility for her work and give her a reference letter at the end of the practice. Unfortunately, she couldn’t secure a job as an engineer. However, three months after finishing the Integration Program and receiving her certificate, she got a job as a draftsman with an engineering company.
A year later, she got promoted to an assistant manager position. She stayed in that role for one year and then applied for a project manager position. During that time, she was mentored by a couple of senior engineers and finally obtained the reference letters she needed to apply for her Professional Engineering status. In 2014, Clodia received her P.Eng., and she has been practicing since.
In 2017, and after six years working at the engineering company, Clodia was ready to tackle a new challenge as a project manager at a provincial government agency.
For Clodia, who believes “the sky is the limit” for someone with her background and experience, her journey has not ended yet. She’s currently tackling a new challenge: Completing an online Master in Business Administration with the University of Canada West to add leadership skills to her technical background, always counting with the full support of her new husband and kids.
In a male-dominated field, Clodia’s determination, willpower and patience were instrumental in succeeding in Canada. She started again from the bottom and worked her way up. “I feel blessed for being able to obtain my designation as an engineer and work in a field that I am so passionate about. Lots of internationally trained professionals are still working in survival jobs, and not being able to get where I am. It was a long journey but absolutely worth it,” ensures Clodia.