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#UofTBackToSchool: from Syria to U of T – ACE program helps student chart new course

Joseph Maghamez has spent the summer taking part in ACE @ UTM, an intensive language course that teaches academic and conversational English (photo by Blake Eligh)

A new school year marks a fresh start for many, but for Joseph Maghamez, this September will truly bring a new beginning.

After a three-year absence, the Syrian student will finally get the chance to return to the classroom, thanks in part to the ACE@UTM program at U of T Mississauga.

Maghamez was completing high school in Aleppo when the growing civil conflict forced his family to flee in 2015.

“It was a hard choice, but was safer for everyone,” Maghamez says.

Over the next year, the Maghamez family travelled, first to the coastal Syrian city of Latakia and then to Lebanon, where Maghamez worked in a copy centre and waited.

“We weren’t allowed to study,” he remembers.

Maghamez arrived in Canada in January 2016. Just two weeks later, he began English classes at U of T’s downtown campus, and evening adult education language classes outside the university.

Back in Aleppo, Maghamez spoke mainly Arabic, but since his arrival in Toronto, he has worked diligently to learn English. “My focus was learning English – it was pretty intense,” he says of his early days in Toronto.

While his spoken English has come a long way, Maghamez found he continued to struggle with the writing and reading skills he knew he would need as a student. To be admitted to U of T, prospective students who are currently learning English or speak English as a second language must demonstrate proficiency in the language. This can be done through writing language proficiency exams, such as TOEFL or IELTS, or through participation in an entrance program.

On the advice of an academic adviser, Maghamez enrolled in ACE@UTM, an intensive language course that teaches academic and conversational English to students who plan to study at UTM.

“Students are invited to join ACE through the admission process,” says Program Manager Adam Fraser. “Anyone who is an English language learner, or where English isn’t their first language, would be considered for the program.”

“Previously, students would need to have met the English language proficiency requirements at the time of application. If they didn’t have those scores, they would have been refused admission. The ACE@UTM program allows students to clear the language conditions closer to the point of admission.”

As a student with the summer program, Maghamez studies with about 20 other students from 13 different countries. They live together in residence and spend the day practising pronunciation and comprehension skills that will serve them in their studies.

Students may also opt for the fall-winter ACE@UTM program, and learn English concurrently with their full-time courses during the academic year. In addition to academic and English components, the program focuses on helping students gain cultural knowledge.

New in 2017, ACE participants can get a dose of Canadian culture through the Across Canada program. Current and previous ACE students will be eligible to participate in the program, which features an all-inclusive trip to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.

Additional scholarships and bursaries are available to current and former ACE students to participate in global travel-study opportunities through the UTM Abroad courses, UTM Abroad Co-Curricular or Study Abroad programs.

In September, Maghamez will enter his first year with UTM’s life sciences program, and hopes to one day follow his father into medicine.

He says ACE has helped him to gain confidence in his English skills, make new friends and ease back into academic life.

“It gave me the opportunity to upgrade my English, but it also oriented me about what happens at university,” he says.

Two months of getting to know UTM before the school year is helping Maghamez to chart his path.

“Before, I didn’t have a clue about where I would go and how I would choose my courses. I know how to direct myself now.”