Minds We Meet—Narmeen Nasir

Can you give us a little bit of background information about yourself? Who are you? Where do you live, where do you come from?

“I came to Canada with my family from Pakistan, seven years ago, when I was 12 years old.  We initially landed in Yellowknife and I started middle school there.  In Pakistan I studied in a private London Board based school so I had no problem with speaking, writing or reading English as most my class fellows and teachers had assumed.

After three months, we went back to Pakistan.  We landed in Calgary after a year in Pakistan and I completed middle school in Calgary.  Finally, we moved to Fort McMurray where I graduated from High school and attended Keyano College for 2 semesters.  Currently, I work in a bank as a CSR, have completed Mutual Funds certification and pursuing Bachelors in Business Management from AU.

Since your childhood was spent in Pakistan, how was your reaction such a big life change?

I had so many mixed feelings that its hard to really put it in words.  Most people here think that Pakistan is like this poverty-stricken nation with slums, etc.  Yes, there are areas like that but mostly in the rural areas.  The cities are quite similar to the ones here in Canada.  I lived in the Capital city of Islamabad and its very similar to Calgary here.  Islamabad is surrounded by the Margalla Hills and is very peaceful.  There is McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Dunkin Doughnuts, and the Centaurus Mall (you can search the google images).  My dad worked in British Petroleum as an petroleum technologist and we were quite well off.  We lived in a huge mansion-like house with a nice backyard with swings and slide, we had housekeepers to do the chores and a personal driver as well.  The housekeepers and driver lived in an annex 24/7.

Due to change of governments and national unrest, my parents decided to migrate to Canada.  My father applied in the Federal Skills category and after 9 months we were packing up to travel to our new home.  My dad took a short-term leave from work. The feeling was similar to first day of school.  I was nervous and sad.  The realization became more obvious when our dream house was put up for sale.  I still remember that me and my two elder sisters wrote letters to that house and buried them in the backyard.  We wrote farewell messages on our cupboards and I cried a lot.  For the first time I saw my eldest sister break down as well.  She was so emotionally strong.  (I should note that this was an emotional subject for Narmeen, who teared up while speaking of this.)

Our departing flight from Pakistan was scheduled for 3am and I will never forget the moment we sat in my dad’s friend’s car to be taken to the airport.  I felt like I was leaving a part of me there.  After travelling for what seemed like ages, we arrived at the Toronto airport and it took forever to get all the paper work sorted out.  My mom’s uncle who lived in Scar Bourgh came to pick us up since we had a 24 hr stay.

When we started to travel from Edmonton to Yellowknife in one of those small aircrafts, all we could see around 20 mins before landing was unpopulated snow-covered land.  When the pilot announced that we were landing, we couldn’t see any signs of an airport.  Then in the middle of snow was an airstrip and we landed.  I was shocked to see that the airport was just one room big with the conveyor belt in the middle with our luggage.  One of my dad’s friend came to receive us but he just walked all the way to the air strip!  Apparently, that’s normal there.  We had already arranged for our accommodation in an apartment in Yellowknife and it was so tiny compared to the mansion we were used to living.  On top of that, it was on the 15th floor!  The view was stunning.  We could see all the lakes and had the best display of Aurora Lights.  We stayed there for 3 months and joined school in April.  The school had a beautiful lake view and we went to several field trips.  For the first time I learnt about Aboriginal culture and tradition there.  Due to employment difficulties we had to return to Pakistan but it was not the same as before.  We rented a small place in Islamabad and lived there until my eldest sister completed highschool and applied to universities in Canada.  After she got accepted in multiple universities, my dad resigned from work and we left for Canada.

We landed in Calgary and this time it seemed more familiar since it resembled Islamabad.  We rented a house and soon were able to purchase our own.  Another thing I found strange in Canada was using the public transport to go to school.  We were used to cars and drivers and here we were asking around fir buses and transits.

Finally, as things were settling down, we moved to Fort McMurray where my sister and brother-in-law lived.  My dad had better employment opportunities in Fort McMurray since his background was in oil and gas industry.  My dad and brother-in-law purchased a nice big house and we’ve been living together ever since along with my niece and nephews.

So far, our little town has survived the Horse River Fire of 2016 and the flood in 2020.

Both events had occurred in months of April/May.  Thankfully, we managed to escape ahead of time, unharmed and quite prepared.

Since you went through quite a few major live events, what or who motivated you to keep going.  Who did you look up to?

My parents have always been and still are the mountains of strength in every way possible.  They are my Everest of support.  My parents have always put us before themselves.  I don’t remember ever seeing them stressed or sad or even angry in front of us.  They did experience all those emotions and I got to know that quite recently, but in the past, they never let us be aware of any negative emotions or challenges they faced.  They have taught us to be honest and truthful to an extent that I cheated once in a Math test in High school and right after I handed in the paper, I ran to the teacher’s office and told her.  I told her to give me a zero on that test but she just smiled and told me to join a mentoring club as a “punishment”.  I did volunteer at the boys and girls club as a mentor afterwards for a year.

I had decided to complete high school earlier and my parents supported that decision.  I went and asked my counsellor who clearly told me it was not possible to complete more than 50 credits in a year.  My parents helped me think and look outside the box.  After researching and calculating I knew that anything was possible if you had the mind to do it.  I started work at Tim Hortons, applied for volunteering, took several courses online through Distance Learning Alberta and merged Grade 11 and Grade 12 in one year.

My mother was very supportive.  We had spent all our lives literally like royalty and Tim Hortons proved to be the very place that I seemed unfit for.  Its so fast paced and everyone’s like running around so in house training is not easy but everyone there was very helpful and friendly.  After several spills, burns from hot coffee and wrong orders I just thought I couldn’t do it.  I went home that day and just cried.  I was just so overwhelmed.  But my mother applied there as well to uplift my spirit and to show me that if she could handle the stress so could I.  I grabbed onto that thought and pushed myself to continue.  We worked different shifts and for most of the year my life was just school, work, volunteering, and exams.

Through my parents’ motivation, advice and support I was able to graduate High School at the age of 16 and only one person had done that before me 3 decades ago.

When you worked in Tim Horton, was there an event or customer who left a good impression on you? The kind that you’d always remember?

Yes, glad you asked that.  The mention of Tim Hortons reminds me of that customer.  It was the busiest time of the day when the customer came and asked me to make Cotton Candy Iced Capp.  I had no idea what to do.  My supervisors were extremely busy, and some were on break.  I was just going around hopelessly looking for clues while the line up was increasing when the customer called me back to the counter.  He just smiled and asked if I had just joined work and I told him yes.  He just said don’t worry, let me help you, just make a regular Iced Capp with raspberry shot.  I felt such relief at that time.  I will never forget his kindness and patience.  We should all give new workers a chance to assimilate in the workplace instead of telling them off.

Kindness is the principle of Humanity and rudeness can destroy that principle.

What’s your program (if any) and what are your plans for this education once you finish? How does it fit in with where you want to go?

I am in my second year of Bachelor of Business Management and I would like to grow my career in banking to move from customer service/retail to management and leadership position.

What do you do like to do when you’re not studying?

I like amateur writing, reading anything that catches my interest from sloppy love stories to Stephen King.  I also enjoy fitness activities like jogging, roller skating, badminton.  Work keeps me busy the rest of the time.  I also like baking, but only after everyone’s gone to sleep and I have the kitchen all to myself.  Baking helps me relax and calms my mind since it requires little thinking; I just have to follow a step-by-step procedure and the final product is satisfies my sweet tooth.  I play some music (no defined genre), prep the ingredients and I’m good to go.

At what point did you waver the most about continuing your schooling?  What caused it and what got you through it?

When I started work, two years ago, I was attending classes in College but, at times I was called in for work during my days off.  It became difficult to balance work and studies especially since I had to attend classes in a physical classroom.  After a year of juggling, I decided to drop out of college but that also meant that I had to give up on my dream of graduating with a degree and climbing the career ladder.  After reviewing the profiles of some of the managers and leaders within my organization, I became determined to continue my education.  I researched for virtual learning and came across AU in the process.  I was a bit skeptical at first because I had fast tracked high school and had to keep a few courses online so I aware of the problem of procrastination but I knew that I just had to push through to achieve my goals in life.

Describe your experience with online learning so far.  What do you like? Dislike?

Online learning been a good experience for me since I can work without worrying about rushing to attend classes.  The courses are flexible, and extensions are available.  Study schedules are provided with each course so that I could track my progress.  I dislike that there are no recorded lectures available.  I know that the university has a class component as well, so it would be beneficial to record lectures or have some PowerPoint slides available for virtual students; not just “here’s the ebook and guide, now good luck with learning”

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?/What TV are you binging now?

I am binging on Grey’s Anatomy and the Marvel Series.  My friends had recommended the Marvel Series several times but I thought the concept of super heros with super human abilities were far from reality.  But when I started watching, I just couldn’t stop!

Who’s your favourite hero so far?

That’s a tough one.  Captain America!


[Interview and article by Kaisha Nasir]