(Originally posted on The Chronicle website as a part of the Diversity in Durham Project on March 24, 2015)
Ibtihaj Syed started out life in India with no cares or responsibilities.
The IT analyst for the Bank of Montreal’s employee giving department was born in India in the city of Hyderabad. Syed was the second born in his family having one older brother and two younger ones.
Syed’s first experience being away from his family for long periods of time was when he was 15-years-old. He finished high school in the city of Bangalore, India, which is seven hours away from Hyderabad and his family.
“Since I was 15-years-old I have been living alone so I am pretty used to being away from the family and staying in touch with them,” he said.
Even though Syed was away from his family that didn’t stop them from being close. They would have gatherings almost every weekend with the house filled.
“I was dependent on my parents so I had no worries,” said Syed. “So I could pretty much go to school and have fun.”
The lack of responsibilities changed when Syed moved to Mequon, Wisconsin to go to Concordia University at the age of 25. Syed received his MBA in information systems.
He applied to four other universities and Concordia was the first one to accept him. With the first semester approaching and no time to wait for the other offers he started his application for a visa.
But Syed didn’t stay in Mequon.
“Even if I wanted to go to a grocery store I had to drive 15-20 minutes,” he said.
So he moved to a bigger city – Chicago.
“I though that would be a better idea if I move to Chicago since I could grow in a bigger city, grow professionally and grow with other people as well.”
Even though he left India Syed didn’t leave his traditions behind, he took those with him. Syed has been able to keep his Muslim culture.
“The best part about here or America is I did not have to hide who I am. I still follow the same things that I used to follow in India,” he said. “Here in Canada as well as in America people are very supportive.”
One of the traditions he kept was having an arranged marriage. Syed was given permission to marry his wife Afifa Siddiqui while living in Chicago.
Siddiqui, a medical administrative assistant for Sunnybrook Hospital wanted to move back to Canada and Syed followed.
“My wife is a Canadian she wanted to move to Canada so that’s when I moved,” he said.
They first moved to Scarborough for six months until they decided on their current home in Ajax two and a half years ago.
“Since my family wanted a bigger house and during that time the house pricing was pretty reasonable in Ajax so we bought a house here and I moved along.”
Moving to Ajax wasn’t all about the bigger house once Syed got to know the neighbourhood.
“I prefer Ajax,” he said. “Especially where I live our neighbours are really friendly.”
On the second or third day of moving into their new home Syed and his wife were met with a nice surprise.
“We were in the garage and the neighbours visited us, we spoke for a few minutes, we introduced ourselves and they introduced themselves,” he said. “This community is very welcoming.”
Even though Syed doesn’t live in India there are parts of Durham Region that remind him of home – weekends.
Almost every weekend his home is filled with family.
“We were a very close tight nit family so that’s what reminds me of India,” he said. “It feels like I am home because I’m used to doing that. I am used to seeing a lot of people, being with a lot of people…but only on weekends.”
Family is a top priority for Syed. His first stop on his vacation bucket list even exemplifies this.
“I want to travel the whole world but that is not practically possible unless you are a millionaire. So I want to start with Turkey,” he said. “That is where my family is from. My family has lived in India for seven generations I think. Prior to that my ancestors came from Turkey. So I want to see how Turkey looks.”
But first before Syed tackles that list he will be going back home to India. He will be going back for the second time since he left to visit his family.