Hi everyone! My name is Lema Sal and I am a freelance writer with my own business here in Canada – Polish and Print.
I immigrated to Canada from Damascus, Syria on a muggy June day in 1996. I was six years old and didn’t speak a word of English. I remember hearing muffled talks about moving to Canada, and the opportunity it would bring, never quite understanding the gravity of relocating to a new country or the sacrifice that my parents had to make in order to provide me with a brighter future. I was six years old and unable to grasp the concepts of relocating, uprooting, starting fresh, or culture shock. In my mind, Canada was an embodiment of the lifestyle I saw when watching The Jetsons, and that was the extent of my understanding.
Luckily, being six years old when I moved to Canada meant I quickly adapted both with the help of the friends I made on the playground and through binge-watching Sailor Moon. I quickly acclimated and looked forward to school and to figuring out my path in this new country; a country my parents had brought me to in order to grant me new educational and career opportunities alongside safety and freedom.
I was quickly drawn to the arts and throughout grade school and middle school I began to express myself through creative writing, and sketching, painting and craft making. This was a form of expression that I was fascinated by and one that was second-nature to me. Looking back, I remember speaking to multiple school counsellors in attempts to have some career guidance as early as the eighth grade. Most counsellors laughed my anxious worries off and kindly reminded me that career decisions didn’t have to be made at 13, and that high school would provide me with the tools I required to define my career path.
Upon graduating middle school in my small city, I attended high school knowing where my passions lied. I knew I enjoyed writing, and that though English was my second language, English literature allowed me to express myself in a way I was never able to in my native tongue. When I wasn’t taking the predetermined courses in the Ontario curriculum, I was signing up for art, history, and English literature courses. These were my highest grades and these were what helped clarify my life path. Unfortunately, in coming to Canada so young and in speaking solely in English, my native tongue faded. This was a blessing and a curse, because while my skill level in one language decreased, this pressure allowed me to increase my skill level in an entirely new language. Before long, I went beyond simply speaking and writing in English and began thinking, dreaming, and conceptualizing in English.
My four years of high school were full of ups and downs since like most high school students, I was torn between the pressures to fit in and the pressure to perform. As a high school student, you are asked know by the eleventh and twelfth grade the field you’d ideally see yourself in in order to tailor your electives accordingly. I constantly teetered between the sciences and humanities. I spent more time with my guidance counsellor than my friends in an effort to find my path and a job that I could simultaneously excel at and be passionate about. After failed attempts to take physics and chemistry courses in order to become a doctor (the cliché ideal I held myself to), I realized that my brain and heart weren’t on board and turned my focus to the humanities. This discovery was disheartening at first but led me to the realization that I ultimately wanted to write and have a career centred on writing (or one that would afford me the luxury of writing in my spare time).
After high school, I was accepted into the University of Waterloo’s English and Professional Writing undergraduate program. I was extremely excited about the opportunity to create an English literature centred schedule that would perfect my passion and give me a degree that I could point to and say “yes, it’s official – I’m a writer!” My days at the Waterloo were some of my happiest; I was as exhausted and stressed out as you’d expect any other student to be but I felt extremely fulfilled, challenged, overjoyed by the experience. Unfortunately, my English degree didn’t land me writing gig I had idealized during my studies, because that writing gig didn’t exist.
Instead, I worked in banking and tried to write when I could and where I could, finding myself in a postgraduate program a year after graduation. I wanted a stable job and I worried that writing was not going to give me that opportunity. My postgraduate studies were draining and being an unpaid intern with two both undergraduate and postgraduate certifications felt a little bit demoralizing but the constant reminder that in today’s economy, one has to “pay their dues” kept me going along with the idea that this would -hopefully- eventually give me a schedule that would allow me to write. Within six months of graduation I landed my dream job in the government and within three years I became a senior level analyst. The best part? This job gave me the work-life balance I required to keep writing in my life.
This began when my 9-to-5 job allowed me to become involved with non-profit organizations and become their Communications Lead. My involvement with non-profits expanded my network and introduced me to a niche market I didn’t realized existed. This niche market was made up of highly intelligent individuals who needed some assistance in writing; assistance ranging from personal statements to letters to resumes. I quickly realized that most individuals struggle when they are writing something for themselves or about themselves, especially when the stakes are high and they are invested in doing a great job! That’s where I came in. I realized that as a neutral third party, I could offer them consultative, objective, and professional writing services.
The combination of my 9-to-5 job, my passion for writing and my expanding network allowed me to start my own business – Polish and Print. Since the launch in November of 2016, business has been great, reviews have been extremely positive, and I have been feeling enriched and inspired by the experience. Ultimately, this has led me to the path I always belonged on but never knew existed. The road felt long and bumpy, but the destination made it all worthwhile.
This article has given me an opportunity to look back at what led me to where I am today since hearing those muffled closed-door conversation about moving to this mysterious place they called “Canada”. I feel truly lucky to have been given this opportunity to live in a country that is beautiful, free and fair. More importantly, I feel lucky to live in a country that allows individuals to create their own destiny, a country where input does equate to output and where if you combine dreaming about something with working towards it, your goals can be achieved! Where else would a girl who moved here not speaking a word of English end up owning and operating her own writing business? Thanks, Canada, for creating an environment that fosters growth for the ambitious dreamers that reside here.