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Talking with Arsalan Jamil

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Arsalan Jamil is often described by his friends as driven and loyal with a love for basketball. He is currently the Executive Assistant to the President and General Manager of the Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri. Arsalan has successfully completed his first degree from Ryerson University in Computer Engineering, and is currently completing a second degree in Business Technology Management. Although Arsalan has held many impressive positions with Scotiabank, All Stream and MLSE, his passion for basketball has brought him to his current and most exciting position, with hopes to contribute as much as possible to the success of the team.

When and why did you decide to come to Canada?

I immigrated to Canada in the summer of 2000 from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. My dad applied for immigration and ended up qualifying. He thought that it was a good opportunity for our family to make the move. He wanted to see us grow up to be successful and have a better education. Lifestyle growth motivated my dad to begin this life changing journey and was very excited about the possibilities.

What were some of your first thoughts upon arrival?

I had watched a lot of Hollywood movies, so a lot of the physical changes were what I had expected, but it was still a shock to suddenly be living in it. It was great to see how nice and clean everything was and how organized the traffic seemed. The multiculturalism was clear – I was able to see and interact with cultures that I had never experienced before. It was exciting and intimidating at the same time.

What are some things that you struggled with?

There are a lot of struggles that take place when you first come to a new country, and some take a long time to sort out. I found myself all alone and missing the relatives and friends that I grew up with. I found it especially hard to handle the language barrier. I was struggling to learn English, which made it very difficult for me to make friends and left me feeling like an outsider. Not being able to communicate effectively with my peers left me with a small circle of friends, all of whom were also newcomers and spoke the same language as me. I was often teased and bullied, leaving me feel very discouraged and resentful of our move to Canada.

How was the move for the rest of the family?

My parents also found the change very hard to deal with. My father was in the Pakistan Air Force and my mom was a teacher back home, they were living fulfilling lives. After immigrating, they suddenly found themselves underemployed, with low self esteem and a great deal of emotional stress. They often considered moving back to Pakistan, but knew that it was financially impossible to do.

What was your turning point?

It sometimes feel like it was sports, specifically basketball that really helped me finally feel ‘settled’ in my new home. Basketball gave me the ability to be a part of a team and I felt like I belonged here in some way. I was able to make many friends outside of my cultural group and comfort zone – this allowed me to practice my English and build my communication skills. Sports gave me something to look forward to everyday and was the self-esteem boost that I really needed.

I was able to go on to Ryerson University and successfully be a part of the Varsity Basketball Team, which has been one of the highlights of my years here. Another strong turning point was when my family was able to buy their first home. Moving from apartment to apartment was just another point of stress that my parents carried with themselves for many years – having our own place felt like we had achieved success in Canada.

What advice would you give to newcomer youth in settling in Canada?

Firstly, I would tell them to stick to their vision. Everyone comes with a vision of what their new lives will look like – parents and youth – stick to it and don’t give up, no matter how hard it gets. Secondly, I would encourage newcomer youth to interact with people outside of their immediate culture and language. Be open minded and try to find a balance between your new culture and the culture that you have left behind – it takes time, but you will figure it out.

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