I Hate You, Potential Employers.

I’m feeling depressed. There is nausea. There is heartache. There is dryness in my throat. My nails are shorter.

And I know exactly why.

I’m currently in my second semester of my first year as a graduate student. My program is two years, maximum, thus by next May I will have graduated and will being making my grand entrance into the real world – again. Whatever the hell that means.

Given the nature of our economy and in an attempt to further make myself less financially dependent on my parents (they want grandkids like next week), I’ve been thinking about my career quite a bit these days. I’m well aware of the fields in which I’d like to dabble my fingers and the sorts of jobs that I would interest me. I’m not interested in a single career really – stagnancy has always been a bit of a turn off for me. Rather, I look forward to a career that spans several fields and positions.

Can you tell how naive I really am by now?

So, since I need a resume full of non-extracurricular activities (i.e. actual jobs) I thought it would make sense that I look into getting a job or internship for the summer within one of the many fields that interest me. And this conquest initially excited me. I am, after all, a grad student now, working as a Teaching Assistant, with a sea of extracurriculars, a GPA I haven’t seen since high school, and am a writer for  a well-read blog as well as my university’s only independent paper. I am well above anything I was as an undergrad.

I. Have. My. Own. Goddamn. Cubicle.


A freaking cubicle. With drawers and everything.

Yet given all of this, I am a complete and utter failure.

Okay, perhaps not really but why is it that I’m still not really qualified for any position I come across? Everything seems to require 15 years experience. Who needs 15 years experience to get you a cup of coffee and edit one of the most well-respected journals on international affairs?

How absurd.

In all seriousness, though, it is rather aching. Of course having experience for a position is dire and completely expected. You’re an idiot to think otherwise. But to my potential employers, look – how can I EVER gain that experience if you won’t give me a chance? It seems as though not only are the expectations for simple jobs and internships becoming absurdly unattainable but that degrees (and further education in general) are becoming increasingly irrelevant or just diminishing in work value. My work experience outweighs my educational experience. I understand the reasoning behind this, but hey I’m sorry I sacrificed interning at a law firm to help build homes in Latin American slums.

I didn’t, but still. I did other things that have helped me cultivate various skills that are certainly worth something. Or I like to think so, anyway.

So, when will I be qualified? Do I really need to get the Fullbright and start my PhD on Turkish hair removal rituals to even be considered as a fundraiser for a human rights organization?

Plus, aren’t there some ethnic/gender quotas you guys need to be filling?

p.s. To potential employers: I’m kidding. I love you. Thank you for putting up with my insecurity-laced rants.

TEDx Talk – Mesmerizing Commute

Because I’m all about self-promotion and glory. Here’s the video of my TEDx talk at McGill University.

McGill Daily columnist, Sana Saeed, transports us with her powerful writing, proving that the more avenues we create to be public as a society, the more private we become as individuals.

It’s based on a piece of mine which was published over a year ago. The major point that I am making is that the more we create ways to interact with the public – social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, blogs or to enhance it such as with cellphones, iPods, and so forth, the more we actually are becoming private. The Public has been an essential part of Western social and political thought for thousands of years, going back to the Ancient Greeks. There was an importance that was ascribed to the Public, it had something that one could never find in the private. And this “something” was related to interaction which led to the exchange of ideas – be they good or bad. It was in the public sphere that we would learn about ways to better govern ourselves, to better our society, and our individual selves. We’d clash over ideas and we’d reunite over ideas. This, we are beginning to lose. This was the beauty of the public, the face to face confrontation of words and ideas that is becoming more and more obsolete. There is nothing wrong with these new avenues we’ve created to engage with and expand the public, but it has taken away our appreciation of the beauty of the public sphere. We must break our private havens. We must not be afraid to confront the ideas and words of others. We must not be afraid to initiate. If we lose this, if we lose our public – we lose far more than just a physical presence. We lose, in a sense, our humanity. We become desensitized to the thriving life around us. We voluntarily alienate ourselves from each other, albeit unconsciously.

So, go ahead and look around. Observe. Breathe. You might see something beautiful.

French-English Relations in McGill Independent Media

Written for a class. The experience ended up being extremely interesting so I thought I’d post my observations, even if they are completely amateur and juvenile for a real, proper ethnography. I can post the conversations if there’s further interest..

The McGill Daily, the Montréal-based university’s only independent newspaper, has a reputation that supersedes it; the publication is renowned for an ultra-liberal approach to life and current events. There is a certain culture of socio-political progressiveness and elitism as well as a sort of pop Socialism[1] that is associated with the paper.  Additionally, The Daily has a French sister-publication, Le Délit, which is published once a week as opposed to twice a week like its English counterpart and shares a similar esteem. The French-English relations at McGill have proven to be complex given the institution’s solely Anglophone character while in the heart of an overwhelmingly Francophone Québec. Assuming the integral nature of the media’s ability to both reflect and facilitate relations between distinct groups, I have decided to dedicate this ethnography to how the staffs of The McGill Daily and Le Délit interact with one another and the general presence of the linguistic binary on campus. In order to determine these relationships and interactions, I spent several days and hours sitting in the office space shared by the two groups. I studied both the environment and the individuals, paying particular attention to how the physical environment effected human interaction and how the individuals interacted with and created that particular space.

The entrance to the Daily[2] office, located in the back of the basement of the McGill University Centre, gives a rather near-perfect introduction to the proposed culture of the publications: the door is smothered with black and white photographs of both strangers and familiar faces. Canadian music icons, social activists, authors and politicians share company with the faces of past and present Daily staffers. Naked breasts of women and male genitalia are also present. The wall directly facing the door is covered with quick campus news updates for the Daily staff. There is little initial indication of a bilingual presence.  The imagery, however, does not end at the door. Upon entering the office, the amount of pictures plastered upon the large walls becomes overwhelming as your eyes struggle to focus on one particular image. The walls consist of endless black and white photos of Daily staffers over the years showing them in their various environments ranging from social events to late night editing endeavors. What is interesting is that upon observation you notice that there is a specific wall space dedicated for Le Délit only; it contains very few photographs in comparison to the remaining vast wall space which is encompassed completely by The Daily. Aside from photos of the individuals running the publications, there are also several references to Canadian culture, socialism and McGill academia: election posters, handwritten signs reading “Workers Unite!” and cut outs of McGill Chancellor Richard Pound create for an interesting visual clash.  The Canadian imagery in particular is striking and surprising given that there seemed to be more references to Canadiana in this one single office than in the entirety of McGill. There were, however, very few references to Quebec culture outside politics, as indicated by large election posters and a sign from the 1994 referendum which read: SEPARATION? NON.

In general, there is a lot of self-commemoration around the office through selectively showcasing the history of the paper. The selected imagery also portrays a particular history of McGill and of Canada from the English perspective, with the French perspective noticeably missing.

The office was generally clean and extremely empty when I visited during the day, filled primarily by several Macintosh computers. At most three people would be present around the early morning or early to mid-afternoon, often making quick phone calls, checking emails or eating lunch. There would be little interaction between staffers if their numbers did not exceed two. However once there were at least three or more present then some sort of casual dialogue would often ensue.  When I visited during the evenings before publication, conversations would revolve around the stories being covered and editorial frustrations. The office would be a complete mess, with papers thrown about, food of various sorts (primarily organic and vegetarian) would grace the tops of tables, and random items of clothing would be thrown about the floor. I was also able fit in perfectly, even as one of three non-White individuals present out of a total of around twenty. No one questioned my presence; some knew me as a former columnist for The Daily while others assumed I was working on something for the publication given my use of a Macbook (the apparent choice of the Daily staff) and my general non-chalant style. It was only when the office was packed that people would strike up a conversation with me, otherwise ignoring me if the number of individuals present was sparse.

It was interesting to note that during the most stressful of moments in the hours before the paper hit the printers, there was a relaxed environment. People walked around without shoes, ate lentil soup out of jars, and socialized with other staffers. There was also an array of music playing in the background, which ranged from the 80s’ band The Cure to popular techno to Jazz fusion. Additionally, there was there was a particular and evident fashion style: run down thrift store clothing. Plaid, stripes and layers with low-stop sneakers seemed to be the standard style expressed by most individuals frequenting the office, topped off with uncombed and intentionally messy hair.

The atmosphere would completely change when an editorial meeting, consisting of only The Daily staffers, took place. All of a sudden an air of seriousness, albeit with much relaxation, filled the previously chaotic room. The staffers would take their seats in a uniform fashion, pull out their pens and pass around the editorials to be discussed. Shoes were taken off, backs were laid against chairs and couches and hands were placed on foreheads as the individuals would begin to read what lay before them. For certain members the routine nature of the situation seemed evident in their expressions and words, asking for things to be quickly “wrapped up” while for others there was a clear sense of excitement as they prolonged the discussions with relevant but unneeded banter.

My interactions with Le Délit staffers were extremely limited as they only frequented the office once a week and sparsely if otherwise. There was, in general, very little French spoken around the office. I found that in a few instances that if a Le Délit staffer spoke to a staffer from The Daily in French s/he would receive a response in English. Le Délit staffers were also less sociable and interested in talking to me, sometimes offering a pained and forced smile if anything at all. I rarely saw members from the two groups interacting in the office; whatever little interaction I did, however, see was limited to simple administrative talk about missed calls and misplaced supplies. I also saw very few copies of Le Délit around the office, unlike The Daily which was found on the walls as well as scattered all over the floor. Le Délit became almost a mythical publication the more I frequented the office. Only anecdotes and observations from The Daily staffers created any sort of “substantial” interaction on my part with the Le Délit. My conversations with staffers, as I will discuss in my later paper, will show the very real and acknowledged disconnect, based on the language binary, between the two publication groups occupying the same space.

[1] There is not this real “We’re fighting for the workers of the world and leading the revolution on campus” sort of mentality, but there is this underlying fashionable adherence to these idea given otherwise unattractive alternatives


[2] By “Daily” I refer to both the English and French publications

Save Your Pity: Migrants don’t need your pity, or their own

Original source.

Rehearsal came to its unfortunate close. Laughing and joking, we wrapped up our first “Greased Lightening” performance. We were doing a tribute to Broadway that year, creating a grand mixture of some of the greatest songs and dances to have graced the coveted stage. It had taken me a while, but I finally felt as though I had found my niche during my first year at the all-American Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School, located in the bustling and quaint town of Port Washington on Long Island. My once-foreign features were made familiar when I joined a more diverse crowd. I was Latino, Italian, Persian, or Greek; I wasn’t the new Pakistani girl in a primarily Jewish elementary school anymore. Middle school, Grades 6-8, allowed for an automatic maturation. There were more opportunities for me to create my American dream: chorus, drama, chess club, student council, yearbook. I delved into any student club for which I could find time and interest. While unaware of my subconscious intentions at the time, this was how I was going to be finally accepted as the American I had always believed I was. The Baby-sitters Club books and Nickelodeon had taught me well: I was going to be a mixture between Mary Anne and Clarissa. 

Exhausted but combusting with energy, I said my goodbyes and acknowledged friends with reassuring nods to indicate that late evening phone dates that would have to follow. I grabbed my belongings and left to look for my father’s silver Ford Taurus, most likely waiting outside the western exit of the school.

I jumped into the car, answering his unspoken questions about my day and rehearsal. He just smiled, nodded and murmured occasionally to show me he wasn’t completely annoyed by the irrelevance of my unending blabber. He seemed more subdued than usual. Must have been a tough day at the bakery, I figured. My father ran a successful business making well-known goods across New York City. Things got tough at times, but after 10 years of an entrepreneurial struggle, he had established a good business.

When I arrived home, I found my mom sitting on the floor of the main bedroom, with all her personal papers loose-leafed across the floor. She was frantically searching, ripping and throwing away things of no importance and collecting whatever seemed valuable. She looked up at me as my father joined her to look through the sea of endless papers. There was a brief silence as my dad, through his eyes, seemed to provoke my mother to speak.

“We’re moving to Canada.”

My initial reaction is not something I’d like on the record, but let’s just say a fit of epic proportions was thrown. Thrown all over the place. I was completely aghast – why on earth had my family decided to move, without any sort of consultation with me, to a frozen tundra with igloos and an ugly head-of-state matriarch? 

But my and my young brother’s cries of disgust meant nothing in the face of my parents’ determination. The 11-year-long American citizenship process didn’t really pan out and we had been offered access to Canada on the basis of my mother’s medical qualifications. She hadn’t been able to practice in the United States, given that she committed the grave sin of becoming a doctor at one of the best schools in a developing country. To be offered a position in her field with that sort of pay, and really with no other choice, my parents packed up everything and we were on our way to Canada within two weeks.

And we were not impressed. Not only was life completely different in Vancouver, where we moved after a brief and yawn-inducing stint in Toronto, but none of the promises of the new promised land seemed to hold. My mother was told that she forgot to read the verbal small print on her immigration conditions: not only did she have to take about four years of Canadian medical school classes and residency, she had to take Grade 12 English.

Just to make sure.

The hit was immediate and spread quickly. My parents found themselves completely lost, financially and emotionally weakened. The most basic of things, to my 12-year-old mind, became beyond luxurious. We slept without mattresses for a year, with virtually no furniture in our house, while my parents looked for ways to regain financial security without tapping into their savings. My mother trained to become a midwife while my father worked security. Both of my parents come from upper-middle class strata and both are highly educated with years of unmatchable experience under their respective belts. But pride must be swallowed in order to keep the family fed.

Eventually both made their ways to calling centres, where they found themselves in the company of other medical doctors, former professors, accountants, civil engineers, economists; you name the career and it was there amongst a sea of headsets. They slowly moved up, got better positions, and started becoming more comfortable in our new lives. We all did. My brother and I had our American-ness stripped of us, and we were hesitant to accept a country which had torn us away from what we loved based on what we saw as deceit. The consciousness of our new immigrant identity forced us to wake up. Everything we did, said, wore, felt was spoken, worn, felt in the context of being essentially “legal aliens.”

It was hard for me to see myself as Canadian for many years, even when I took the oath of citizenship in 2004. I had my occasional bouts of patriotism, but they were always superficial and brief. I was angry; I was upset. My father’s business had been destroyed, my mother’s dream slaughtered, and I never got to do the tribute to Broadway: I never got to live my all-American dream. The only solace I ever found was in hockey – and even that was usually depressing, thank you very much, Vancouver Canucks.

But this sort of self-pity is nothing more than self-fulfilling. Pity gets you nothing, whether it’s from yourself or others. And I’m not asking for your pity either, as you read this brief account of my family’s migration story. No immigrant or migrant wants pity. And they don’t need it either. Instead of pitying, as members of a country built on the backs of immigrants we ought to rethink how we as a society engage with our immigrant population. And I don’t mean through the shoddy multiculturalist façade we’ve thrown up in an attempt to simultaneously appease and liberalize. It’s time for serious and practical immigration reform both at the structural and societal levels. 

But I’ll save that discussion for another time. I have a hockey game to catch.

The popular, pornographic view of Africa

Original source.

Fall semester of the 2008 school year at McGill, my political science degree came to a sombre close. I had come to university as a bright-eyed, excited 18-year-old, in love with politics and assured that I was meant to study in the field. And like every other political science major, I was determined to pursue a degree in international law at a prestigious university and ideally wished to work in some sort of diplomatic department at the United Nations, after a wonderful and brief stint at a well-established non-governmental organization (NGO). This is how I would have saved the world.

But that was September 2005. By my fourth and final year, every ounce of idealism and hope had been successfully dismantled by too many fumbles into the dreaded bell curves and the endless nonsense of realism that seemed to punctuate all the classes I took in the department.

Regardless, I was saddened when my political science career ended. This sorrow, however, was not limited to the end of a personal era. The very last paper I wrote for my major was the first paper I had ever written on Africa. My only contact with the place prior to this was in the form of Egypt, in the Middle-Eastern context, and North Africa, discussion of which merely revolved around the recognition of the area’s existence. This final paper thus forced me to question and analyze my personal and academic relationship with the “Dark Continent.”

What I realized, in part thanks to conversations with my token African friend, was that my own perception, as well as the popularly projected view of Africa was almost exclusively this oddly pornographic, stagnant, and singular image of the continent. In other words, we have a grossly generalized and exploitative view of Africa, as bereft of its constituent parts, as a single entity ravaged by famine, poverty, and disease. We rarely think of the parts that make up Africa, and when we do, those pieces of the continent are limited to conflict-ridden countries.

The “real Africa,” as we know it seems to be in between North Africa and the south, the latter of which is associated with being Western and European. And we never go beyond the negative. We never even think to ask about Africa’s thriving arts, literary, and academic cultures. African history is limited to the period of and after colonialism. Rarely are the historical achievements stemming from the African continent, which have helped the world modernize and progress, discussed – let alone acknowledged. 

International institutions and NGOs don’t exactly change this, either. While helping the poor and destitute of the world is vital, the campaigns undertaken by groups ranging from UNICEF to Make Poverty History to Save The Children have exploited and exacerbated the view of Africa as a single “country” ravaged by war, lawlessness, illiteracy, disease, and drought. These issues do exist, but in varying degrees in the various countries that share the continent. This attitude also clouds our perception of most of the non-Western and non-European world: this “other” world becomes ours to save. All we see is Kipling’s burden alive and thriving within our minds. In other words, every time you donate to World Vision, you are undermining the ability of Africans to be the agents of change of their own condition. How do you sleep at night?

I recently decided to see if this perspective is in fact correct: do most people see Africa through a pornographic lens? I updated my Facebook status (a most accurate empirical approach) and asked friends to comment, without pretending to be enlightened, with the first word(s) that popped into their heads at the mention of Africa. The results were unsurprising. Out of a total of 25 responses, three said “black”; four friends wrote “disease” (of whom one said AIDS); four said “famine”; and two responded with “Toto.” Other responses included: oppression, tribes, rain, drought, children, safari, cows, Simba, beautiful black women, Apartheid, and The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Intrigued, I updated my status once again, this time applying the same question to Europe. The results were radically different. The 13 word-associations included: wine, sophistication, art, dream destination, empire, culture, gourmand, imperialism, education, croissants, cafés, and cobblestone.

Europe epitomized high culture, savoir-faire, knowledge, art, and personal desire. The Cradle of Civilization, on the other hand, was reduced to a colour, to famine, to children, to Toto. One continent claimed the pinnacle of what a civilization should be while the other encompassed precisely all that creates the antithesis of a great civilization. The power relationship between the two continents, both historic and epistemic, is thus apparent. Surprise, surprise. 

The “Dark Continent” remains as dark as ever, but more so because we have allowed for greater darkness to overtake it. By ignoring the contributions of African civilizations, the continent’s particular parts, its non-colonial history, and its thriving cultures, we do a great disservice to our fellow human beings and undermine our own so-called humanitarian efforts. Aid, food, condoms, clean water, and building schools will help. But nothing will help more than acknowledging that Africans are beyond care packages, that they are beyond drums, beyond civil strife, beyond pigment, and beyond our television screens.