Newcomer Story: Iryna Bakunets

Ira at the stage after watching a ballet at the Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg.

Ira at the stage after watching a ballet at the Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg.

Love actually brought Ira to Manitoba. She first met her husband through his sister who was Ira’s friend. At that time, Ira’s husband-to-be was vacationing in the Ukraine for Christmas (he was a permanent resident and working in Winnipeg then) when love bloomed between them. “We carried on a long distance relationship for about a year and a half and then he came back home to propose,” she remembers fondly.

“When I came to Canada four years ago, I didn’t know any English at all,” she said. Ira was caught up with all the arrangements for the wedding and moving to Canada that she did not have the time to study English prior to leaving. When she arrived in Winnipeg in October 2011, she quickly learned that she would have to become accustomed to the way of life and quickly learn the language in order to fend for herself. “For instance, I saw that in Canada, everything is indirect. Everyone is so polite and diplomatic. Not to say that we are not polite but Ukrainians are quite direct. So I had to get used to how they say and do things. Communication was a big factor since I didn’t know any English at all. I was dependent on my husband for everything! I felt like a baby who could not do things for herself,” Ira laments. Prior to immigrating, Ira was a practicing corporate lawyer, so being helpless was something new to her.

Learning English

This pushed her to start learning the language as quickly as possible. As she was not a permanent resident yet, she enrolled in paid ESL classes. She first took classes at Heartland School, followed by another course at Red River College. She also enrolled at the University of Winnipeg. However, when she was sidelined by her pregnancy, Ira stopped her English courses. And then she was pregnant again the following year.

“After my kids were born, I wanted to go on with improving my English but I couldn’t continue taking classes in person. But because I already learned the basics from my previous classes, it made me more confident to start studying online which was the best solution for me,” Ira said. She heard about English Online from one of her friends and decided to try it. By this time, she was already a permanent resident.

“In April 2014 I started studying with English Online and afterwards I joined the LINC Home Study Canada program in July. At that time, my CLB was 6 in listening, reading and speaking; in writing I had CLB 5. Today, after one year of studying with LINC program, I feel that I advanced my English substantially. Not only did I reach CLB 8 in all four language skills, but I also got more confident and efficient in using English in my everyday life. In addition to this, I learned a lot about settlement, post-secondary education and working in Canada,” Ira said.

A world of possibilities

“These days, I can communicate with people, make calls, watch TV shows and theatre plays, write essays and different types of letters, and read magazines and books in English without fear of misunderstanding or being unable to express myself properly as it was at the beginning,” Ira says with a beaming smile.

She also recently passed her driving test and earned her permit in August. So from a blushing bride who was totally dependent on her husband, Ira is now a confident mom with a whole new world of opportunities opening up to her.

As her children are growing, she is planning on going back to building a career. She is looking into options for a career shift or to taking courses towards becoming a legal assistant. Hearing her talk about her plans for the future, you cannot be anything but excited for her.

Tips for other newcomers

Aside from learning English before coming to Canada, Ira shares the best advice she received as a newcomer:

“The best advice for me was to take advantage of the free courses and programs in Manitoba. There are many of these available and they are amazing! I have attended many parenting programs, like a breastfeeding support group, the healthy baby program, kids@play, and Rhyme and Story Time. I learned a lot from them. They even offer other support like free milk coupons until the baby is six months, and bus tickets. All you need to do is go and participate,” Ira says.

Asked what she loves most about living in Manitoba, Ira says that: “In Manitoba, you can enjoy life and not have to worry about what’s going to come tomorrow. You can be free to be yourself. You can choose to take care of your children or choose to practice your profession. You can even shift to a different career if you like. It is a good place, it is safe and secure. You can have a good life here with plenty of opportunities for growth.”

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