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Architect’s change of plans

By Fiona West | July 12, 2023

As a teenager in his homeland of Syria, Hermez Ichaya dreamed of becoming an architect. But in his final year of schooling his family was forced to flee to Lebanon, and his plans for university, and his future, appeared lost.

But just over a decade later Hermez has overcome many obstacles – including moving to a new country as a refugee and learning a new language – to achieve his lifelong dream, graduating with distinction in a Bachelor of Architecture at Western Sydney University (WSU) last year.

He has also found meaningful employment – ironically not as an architect – but as a librarian in his new home of Fairfield; a job which he says enables him to give back to the community to whom he is so grateful.

“When I arrived in Australia in 2016, my English wasn’t good, but I put a target in front of me that I’m going to go to uni within a year. I managed to do that and also managed to finish my study within five years of being in Australia,” Hermez said.

Because the opportunity had been taken from him when he left Syria in 2012, and after “wasting” four years in limbo in Lebanon, Hermez had adopted a steely determination to reclaim his career choice. He was so focused on this mission that he never stopped to think if architecture was something he still really wanted to do.

But to get there Hermez said enrolling in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP)* at Fairfield was the best move he could have made.

“I came to Navitas and, lucky me, I got the best teacher, Roger (now retired),” he said.

“I loved him. He was like inspiration to be honest. The way he made us think, the way he made us use the language, the way he pushed us to use the language, through discussion, was how I learned so quickly.

“In class we said no words in other languages, we had to use English. He made us think in the language, not just speak it, so we used the language in our head, we weren’t trying to translate.”

After less than one year at Navitas, Hermez was ready to go to TAFE, where he completed an English for Academic Purposes course, before being accepted into WSU.

Studying hard and achieving good marks, Hermez was offered a job by one of his tutors at an architectural firm in Surry Hills. But Hermez said it did not take him long to confirm his emerging suspicions that architecture was not actually for him.

“I worked seven to eight months, but it was stressing me because it wasn’t my thing,” Hermez said.

“I love the design part of the work, or spending time with the team thinking and designing all this stuff, and I like the culture, but just not the not the technical part of it, where you have to sit in front of the computer for sometimes 10 hours. I’m a people person. I talk a lot.”

And while talking might not seem like the best quality for a librarian, Hermez said most libraries these days were not quiet places to just sit and read books.

“Fairfield library especially is like a hub,” Hermez said. “It’s like, you go into it, you feel positive, it’s not a silent space anymore. In fact, we don’t have a silent room at Fairfield library, so it is a place to connect and talk. It’s much more than books, more than information. You can get training in the library, nowadays, you get courses, you can do programs.”

Hermez said he almost found the job by accident while looking on the council’s website at urban design-related employment.

“I never thought I’m going to work for a library to be honest,” he said. “But this position came up and I said, ‘librarian looks good. I’ll try it!’ Then I’ve tried it and it seems I’m enjoying it.”

Hermez has now been in the job six months and has no intentions of returning to architecture ever again. But he is still proud of his achievement and even more grateful for the opportunity he had to choose his path.

“I’m not a graduate as a librarian, that’s true, but I believe customer service is a really big part of the library, nowadays, especially, and I believe I’ve been accepted here because of it. I have a passion for giving back to the community that impacts the way I’m doing my job today. This is my anchor, because I value the place that gave me a lot of opportunities. It’s truly good, and this job, and Fairfield, it feels like home; it feels exactly like home.”

*The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) is funded by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs.

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