Personal achievement is just one part of your immigrant Story
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey
Many immigrants come to Canada to pursue new opportunities and strive for personal success. Aziz Bootwala, an architect who moved to North America from Mumbai, India when he was 21 years old, says achieving your own success is only part of your immigrant story.
To make your story richer and more complete, says Bootwala, you should give back to the country that gave you your opportunities, especially helping new immigrants who now face the same you once did.
A young Bootwala worked hard to achieve his own story of professional success in Canada, and today he is Managing Principal, Edmonton, and Vice President of Business at Kasian. He says the secret to success for all immigrants is to embrace a can-do attitude towards hard work. “You have to make sure that whatever you do, you’re doing it not only the best that you can, but the best that there is,” he says. “I think whatever we take on, whether it’s a professional position or a volunteer position, we need to make sure that we are the best that best can be.”
This attitude has guided Bootwala’s career in architecture, starting with his graduation from the Raheja School of Architecture in Mumbai and continuing with his Master’s in Architecture at Kansas State University. Bootwala then moved to Los Angeles, where he spent 10 years working with two prestigious architectural firms.
While Bootwala was living in the United States, the rest of his family moved from Mumbai to Edmonton. So, in the early 1990s, Bootwala was faced with a life-changing decision: the Sunshine State or a hockey town?
Choosing Canada was an easy decision for Bootwala, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“The quality of life in Canada versus America was very promising. The access to facilities, the freedom to follow your faith and just be a part of this pluralistic society made Canada feel a lot more promising for the future,” he says.
However, when Bootwala first settled in Canada, he still encountered challenges. “Life in the early 1990s was a lot different than it is today,” he says. “Today, the U.S. and Canada are far more advanced in their approach to accepting people from different cultures and communities than they were back then.”
There was very little support for him, and he had to forge his own path. That path led him to Kasian in 1994. He says that being a part of the Kasian team has been key to his immigrant journey. “I feel I owe a large part of my success to the vision and the welcoming nature of Kasian,” says Bootwala.
Benefiting from his international background, Bootwala represented Kasian in the Middle East in 2007, opening their offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Mumbai. In 2011, still based in Dubai, Bootwala moved on to an opportunity as managing principal for Stantec Middle East, expanding his expertise in master planning for large-scale mixed-use developments and hospitals—but he was more than happy to return to Canada and to Kasian. “It’s always felt like home and that’s why when I moved back to Edmonton in 2015, it wasn’t just a homecoming to my family, it was also a homecoming to the company who I warmly respect and who also respected me for who I am.”
Building Experiences, Building a Dream
As his career grew, Bootwala’s love for architecture has never wavered. He says he feels fortunate to work in a field that is not only rewarding for him professionally, but one that creates a better life for everyone. “The key thing about architecture is that a good design will help enhance people’s lives. More than anything else, architecture is a profession that allows you to realize people’s dreams,” he says. “When clients have a dream, we listen to that and make it happen. It’s among very few professions that blend art and science, and it allows you to look into the past and learn from it: what has been done, what has not been done—and see the impact of various cultures on the design of buildings.”
Bootwala has worked on massive projects such as the South Edmonton Common shopping space and the Alberta Legislature grounds, but says the work that benefits the community, such as his recent focus on seniors’ homes and assisted living projects, is especially rewarding.
A Motivated Mentor
For Bootwala, a passion to help others is central to who he is, and he is particularly enthusiastic about mentoring immigrant architects. In 2017, Bootwala was awarded a fellowship from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, not only for his work, but for his commitment to mentoring. “The fellowship is an acknowledgement from my colleagues and peers who believe I have the best interests at heart of moving the profession of architecture along and, more importantly, of helping young architects achieve their dreams,” he says.
Bootwala said he was humbled on a personal level, particularly as an immigrant, to receive the fellowship. “A lot of people may not know the struggles and challenges I faced to move to North America; to be able to support myself through university and then support myself and my family. I’m really thankful that people believed that I have the skills and passion to be able to represent architecture at that level.”
Helping others so they don’t face the same challenges he did is the driving force behind his passion for mentoring. “I swore to myself that every opportunity that I would get, I would make sure I would help others so they don’t have to go through what I went through,” Bootwala says.
“There are a lot of new immigrants moving to Canada who are in the architectural profession, and I like helping them understand the immigration process and challenges they may face before getting approved. For example, it’s important to make sure that they have the right qualifications, because it’s very difficult when a qualified architect moves to Canada, only to then realize they will not be able to practice because the school that they went to is not recognized in Canada.”
New Immigrants Don’t Have to Struggle Alone
Whether you need help or you’re in a position to mentor others, you’re not the only one in your story.
Bootwala advises newcomers to keep going and remember to ask for help when you feel alone. “Always keep your head high and do not underestimate your power—you will be amazed at what you can do yourself. You have to be willing to work hard, have commitment and dedication to what you are doing, and have faith in yourself,” Bootwala says. “Once you believe in yourself, it’s amazing how much the world around you will rally for you. Always seek a mentor, because there are always others like myself who are truly invested in helping others be successful. And then, when you become successful, make sure that you find opportunities to give back to your community, too.”
For the full article, visit Canadian Immigrant.
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