As a teenager living in Iraq, Osama Ali Ozkan looked in the mirror one day, and told himself ‘I will obtain my PhD in Canada.’ And more than three decades later, – 11 years after he immigrated to Canada with his family – the technology consultant and Fanshawe College instructor has achieved his goal – completing a Ph.D in computer software engineering at Western University.
Osama, who works for the Local Health Integration Network and teaches at Fanshawe College, also ran for city council last year with the aim of bringing more diversity to London leadership. While he did not win the election, his campaign helped raise awareness about important issues in the London community.
Originally from Iraq, Osama was living and studying in Istanbul with his wife and three children when he received the news he had been accepted as a skilled immigrant to Canada because of his background as a computer engineer. To Osama, it was a dream come true. “I wanted to get my PhD in Canada and for my kids . . . I wanted to settle in a stable country that respects human rights,” he says.
Then, they made the big move to Canada, and then found themselves facing the obstacle of having no Canadian experience. “It’s the nightmare for every skilled immigrant,” he says. But Osama found a way to get that experience: Volunteering. As soon as the family arrived, he started searching for a place to put his years of training and experience to good use. He started volunteering at a Toronto hospital in the IT department, and after six months, he was working his first job. Osama says he tells all newcomers the solution is in volunteering. “It is the key,” he says. “Then when employers ask for Canadian experience, you have Canadian experience.”
Osama spent seven years working as a support analyst at London Health Sciences Centre before applying to do his Ph.D at Western University. His wife also volunteered and now works for the London Employment Help Centre.
Twelve years after arriving in Canada, Osama’s family is thriving and his two oldest children are attending Western University. He has completed his PhD, participated in politics and worked as a technology specialist and teacher. But even though he now has a lot of Canadian experience, he continues to contribute as a volunteer with literacy, education and multicultural organizations. Osama is the director of the Canadian-Iraqi Turkmen Association and on the board of Literacy Link. “It’s my pleasure to volunteer as a board and committee member, to be a positive and active part of London and give back to society at large,” he says.