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Sylvia Gawad on the importance of forming connections

The power of a network isn’t a secret in today’s society, but Sylvia Gawad says the network she built around her during her time in Nova Scotia has been proven beneficial time and time again. 

Gawad, whose immigration story involves a 14-year struggle to achieve her permanent residency, says on more than one occasion those around her helped immensely. After first entering the country on a student permit, Gawad’s situation changed drastically as her family back home was greatly affected by civil war. 

She says the connections she built with those at St. Mary’s University, made it possible for her to stay and continue her studies. 

Sylvia Gawad

“Luckily for me, I was working on campus and I was connected to the president at the time, Dr. Colin Dodds. I talked to him to try to find ways to overcome that my parents had lost their income and could no longer pay. I was thinking of packing my bags and trying to figure out something else,” she says. “The university came together, the admissions came together, and the president and registrar’s office put me on a payment plan. This opened up opportunities for scholarships and grants to try to defer some of the costs. They even put me on payment plan for after graduation. 

“I don’t know where I would be without them. They were really my saviours. They saved me, they gave me love, care, and attention I have never seen anywhere else. They are the reason I am still here today. In all honesty, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would my brother, if it wasn’t for them.” 

At that time, Gawad was working as much as she could on campus, including student security. It was that job that led to the development of her connection and networking with Dodds. 

“When I was the president, it wasn’t unlikely for us to have a lot of events in our home and it wasn’t unusual for her to be one of the security,” Dodds says of the beginning of their connection. “In lots of ways she stood out because she has lots of personality, she’s very smart and outgoing.” 

Gawad also involved herself in university events wherever she could. 

“She was active in the student association and she was on the board, if my memory serves me right,” Dodds says. 

Another time the power of network helped Gawad was surrounding her permanent resident application, after her first attempt was rejected. She immediately engaged the network she had built, including politicians on the municipal and federal levels, for help. She was able to get help in just one day that might have taken months on her own. 

“I’m privileged to have access to these networks, but the average person doesn’t have access,” Gawad says. 

Dodds says while Gawad’s experience is unique to herself, it’s a great example of why he tells students, especially international students, making connections is important. 

“I always say to students, you need to broaden your network and keep building and building,” he says. “She was honestly very good at that. She was able to build up a portfolio of community activities both on and off campus, and that broadens your network.” 

However, Dodds is aware Gawad possesses personality traits that naturally draw others to her. 

“Sometimes, the international students don’t have that level of confidence. They’re coming into a new country and English is usually not their first language,” he says. “She was definitely more of an extrovert.” 

Gawad is now using her natural skillset to help others build their networks through her work at Placemaking 4G

“How can we connect the experiences people bring from their home country and connect that to employers? We’re looking to meaningfully connect individuals from outside of Canada to employers in Canada.” 

Addendum to story from Sylvia:
“I have recently left P4G and joined as a co-founder at Essential Recruits. Essential Recruits are on a mission to create a bridge that ensures Atlantic Canada becomes an attractive destination for skilled health care talent. The team at ER (short for Essential Recruit.. yes, it’s on purpose) has helped skilled health care talent immigrate and thrive in communities across the U.K. Now our sights are set on using our already established international network to connect Nova Scotia health care organizations with needed talent by providing a full-cycle hiring process, from licensing and immigration to arrival and settlement.”

To read more about Sylvia Gawad’s experience with Canadian immigration, please check out the rest of her story by visiting and clicking on Stories. Then look under the Online Exclusive tab. 

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