From Bahrain to OCAD U

Portait of Sandra Ibrahim

What's it like to be an international student at OCAD U? We talked to Integrated Media student Sandra Ibrahim. 


What’s your story? Did you study design before coming to OCAD University?

I am originally Egyptian but grew up in Bahrain, where I lived until I was 18. I have always been interested in media and art/design in general — specifically, digital art and design — but I had never studied art properly. I went to a very small French school where art was not taken seriously, and when I moved to a British school I tried taking art. However, because it was all focused on drawing and painting, I ended up dropping it and stuck with information and communication technology, where I was introduced to simple graphic animation and Photoshop.

Why did you choose to move to Canada to attend OCAD U?

The decision to move to Canada initially came about because I have a lot of family here. Through research, we ended up finding great universities for both my sister and me to go to, where we could study exactly what we wanted. If I had stayed in Bahrain, my choices would have been a lot more limited, and moving to Egypt was out of question due to the political issues.

What were the biggest challenges in coming here? What are the best parts?

The biggest challenge was being so far away from where I grew up and where my parents still lived. Also, moving from Bahrain, an extremely small desert island in the Middle East, to such a big city in the West was overwhelming at first, and I had to deal a lot with homesickness because it’s pretty much impossible to travel back and forth very often..

The best part has been this whole new experience: getting to finally study what I love at university, a new city, new people and even more diversity than there is in Bahrain. There are so many things to explore in Toronto, but the most fascinating thing to me, even today, is the nature in Canada. Experiencing the change of seasons every year is always my favourite thing. Also Tim Hortons. God bless you, double double! 


Do you have any advice for students from other countries thinking about coming to OCAD U?

I would just say, do your best not to feel intimidated by change. Embrace it and make the most of it. No matter how difficult it feels in that moment, eventually you WILL adjust to it all and you might even be more knowledgeable than the people who have spent their entire lives in this country. I definitely know a lot more about Toronto than my cousins who were born and raised here. 

Second, and most important, do not compare yourself to other artists around you, especially during first year. No matter what you do, your style, skills and ideas will never be the same. No one is better than another as an artist. One person might be more skilled than you at a certain thing, but that will never make them a better artist as a whole than you are. Everyone is different and unique with their own work, which is what makes OCAD U great! 

Finally, ask questions! Ask for help! There is no shame in that. The more certain you are about something, the better you will do, the more easily you will adjust and, you know, who ever wants to get lost in the city? 

What program are you in? Why do you love doing that?

I am about to start my fourth year of Integrated Media. I am so happy and absolutely love what I do because I keep learning new things. We are in the age of technology, and nothing fascinates me more. I am always excited to learn how to use new technologies and software, and to be able to create art out of them is all the more fun. I also get to practise and improve on my main focus: production and post-production, and how to work professionally on set. Integrated Media allows you to grow as an artist by exploring a broad range of courses, and you can change direction at any time. 

Where’s the best place in Toronto to get food that tastes like home? I’ve got to say, there is nothing that can ever come close to how good the food is back home. But I will say that the closest thing to good Middle Eastern food in Toronto is at the Paramount. I would recommend the tabliyeh saj chicken shawarma (they make the best garlic sauce) or, if you are vegetarian, try the fatteh bi laban. 

As for Egyptian food specifically, I have yet to hunt that down, and Bahraini food is definitely not popular outside of the country. If you can get your hands on karak tea (Bahraini) or koshary (Egyptian), you should definitely try them.

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