Newcomer Stories

Newcomer Story: Ellen Min Chen

We’re celebrating Ellen who is our first Language Contest winner. Our Language Contest consists of three fairly difficult grammar questions every Friday on English Online’s (EO) Facebook and Instagram pages. After successfully answering the first set of questions correctly, she continued answering the weekly quizzes, acing all of them. This earned for her the additional title of overall Language Contest winner for February.

Lady at the finish line of Manitoba marathon

Not bad for someone who came to Canada with almost no English.

This is the simple truth about Ellen – she prepares, works hard and then beats all odds to reach her goals. So it’s not really surprising that she won our contest. This is just another notch on what’s becoming a lengthy list of achievements for Ellen.

On her own but not alone

Ellen came to Canada in 2015 to study Culinary Arts and Design at the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT). Before coming to Manitoba, she signed up for a homestay program since she was coming to the country alone. This proved to be a wise move as she could not say enough good things about her experience. “My first homestay family was very patient and supportive. When they picked me up at the Winnipeg airport and asked a simple question, I didn’t even know how to speak a whole sentence! So they helped me practice speaking English after school daily. My homestay mom would ask me what cooking skills and recipes I learned at school during our family dinner time, and my homestay dad would teach me new vocabulary when he drove me home every time,” Ellen recalls. After a year, however, she had to move to a second family when her homestay dad injured his back. Ellen lived with the next family for four years. She established such a close bond with them that even today, despite having moved out and living on her own, she still calls them weekly and visits them monthly.

Ellen completed the culinary arts program in a year and immediately applied for a post-graduation work permit. Being the hard worker that she is, she took on three part-time jobs and became a full-time cook after graduation. She worked for two and a half years as a cook in a restaurant until she became a Permanent Resident (PR). But shortly before receiving her PR card, Ellen decided to shift her focus to immigration studies. She shares that when she was working at Tim Horton’s, she helped her colleagues there who were also applying for PR. One day a co-worker told her “Ellen, you should really be an immigration consultant. You’re good at it.” Ellen took this to heart and decided to study “Immigration: Law, Policies and Procedures,” a one-year online program at the University of British Columbia. On the very day of her graduation, she received a job offer to work at a private immigration service and consulting firm assisting Chinese clients to meet their immigration objectives. Ellen accepted the offer to work as an immigration administrative assistant and has since been promoted to office manager.

The principle of mise en place

When I invited Ellen for this interview, she asked if she needed to prepare for the questions. I told her that it will just be a casual chat, but she still took it upon herself to list down all her talking points. She explained that this is a habit she learned from being in the culinary industry. “The first thing I learned from the culinary arts program is the French term called mise en place (everything in place.) You get all the ingredients prepared and ready before starting to cook,” she said. Since then, thorough preparation has become a habit she practices in most aspects of her life.

Preparation, coupled with perseverance and a love for learning seems to make up the secret sauce that fuels her drive. If you check Ellen’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll see that despite working several jobs, she’s had time to volunteer, take professional courses, learn English, and even run in marathons, yearly! In fact, she has participated and finished as a medalist in the 10K Manitoba Marathon six times (see her photo above) and she’ll participate again in 2022. For her, this is another way of supporting the community and integrating into Canadian culture.

This drive has also led her to continue improving her English language skills. “Those five years I stayed with my homestay family and worked in various jobs helped me improve my English. When I joined a Chinese company, where my colleagues and clients are all Chinese, I communicated mostly in Chinese in the workplace. But when I went home, I bonded with my host family entirely in English. Now I live by myself, so I create a personal language learning environment at home. If you’re not constantly learning, you’re actually falling behind. That’s why I started taking English courses. I participate in EO classes during my lunch break and free time after work,” Ellen said. Aside from wanting to improve her English in her daily life, she is also preparing to take the IELTS test as a requirement for becoming a licensed immigration consultant.

Learning with EO

“I definitely enjoy learning with EO, especially the vibe of online classes. I’ve met a lot of instructors, Pam, Nastashya, Blaine and some teachers in training. They are friendly and knowledgeable. They always encourage us to ask questions and give us feedback on our homework. I’ve also met other learners all over the world. We get to practice small talk and then discuss a certain topic in group chat. With some of the learners, I can tell that their language skills are at the beginner level, but they are so brave to talk. That’s the significant step to moving forward.” she said.

Another important thing she is learning is being an autonomous learner. “I have developed a learning habit at EO. I check the upcoming events at the beginning of each month and then choose any classes I’m interested in and add them to my Google calendar. I always make a 10-minute reminder for each class, so I won’t be late. In March, we started a new Multi-Week course “Become an Autonomous Language Learner,” and I learned two words – intrinsic and extrinsic. I realized that the idea behind these words is related to my experience learning English. For the past several years, I’ve studied English so hard just because I have to pass English language tests to achieve immigration goals, such as getting into Canadian College, entering Canada with a student visa, and receiving a permanent residency status. So this is extrinsic – you learn English for a specific purpose. It feels like learning English is a chore. I have never thought of asking myself if I really enjoy it, or which part of the language do I like to learn? That’s a huge change in awareness,” she said.

Meeting settlement challenges

This “aha moment” about learning motivation is related to her experience in 2020 when she took the IELTS test as a requirement for her licensure. Unfortunately, she didn’t reach her target score. “This experience made me question myself. How come I didn’t measure up? As a result, I was so frustrated, and I started feeling all the physical symptoms of stress like fatigue and body pain”, she said.

Ellen was able to hurdle this rough period by seeking professional help. However, because of the language barrier, she had to find ways of understanding her situation first and finding solutions that made sense. “My family doctor could refer me to a therapist, but I was concerned about expressing my feelings properly and accurately in English because how would they understand the cultural factors involved in my mental health? So I did my research first by exploring online resources about psychology and therapies,” she said. Later on, she availed of free therapy from NorWest Co-op Community Health. She also found that meditation helped her immensely. It’s a practice she now does every day.

Another challenge she met early on is navigating the language barrier and recognizing the cultural component. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. As newcomers, we need to be careful about using the phrase ‘I need’. Because if it is used at the wrong time and with the wrong tone of voice, it can sound bossy and rude. For example, when you order food at a restaurant, it is more polite to say ‘May I’ instead of ‘I need’ to show your respect. Small talk is also a new communication skill I learned in the Canadian workplace. When I was working in the kitchen, I didn’t pay attention to daily conversations with other cooks and chefs. My previous co-workers probably thought I was shy or cold! But I just didn’t have the awareness to use small talk. I realized that it is always necessary to understand and adapt to Canadian social norms,” Ellen said. She adds that the best way to adjust is to observe and accept differences, be open to change, and become a lifelong learner.

Future plans

Ellen was excited to share that she recently passed the interview to become an EO volunteer settlement e-coach. “Thank you for posting the practical articles about volunteering on EO’s Live & Learn website. When preparing for my volunteer interview, I explored online resources on EO without checking other websites. Besides reading your articles, I also reviewed all of the presentations from the Multi-Week Courses– Volunteering in Canada, which I attended last year,” Ellen said. She is now ready to coach her first mentee after the volunteer training. She looks forward to “learning by teaching,” meaning applying what she learned at EO as she helps more newcomers in the community.

Despite her hectic life, Ellen plans to continue learning with EO to improve her English. “As a learner, my goal is to spend 1,000 hours on EO. I’ve already spent 110 hours which means I’ve attended 110 classes since 2021,” she said. As for her IELTS test goal, Ellen has taken a better and more mature perspective about this target. “The goal is challenging, but I’ll take my time, monitor my progress, and focus on the moment. The road to success is always under construction. At least I’m enjoying the journey, she said.

Newcomer Story: Silvia Ortega dela Cruz

Silvia taking a Silvia by the lake

Silvia’s cheerful face came on the screen after I clicked on Skype. She was all smiles but she told me she was nervous about this interview because her English is not very good. After assuring her that I could understand her very well, she started to relax and tell her story.

Love transcending the language barrier

Silvia came to Manitoba in 2018 to be with her husband. She moved here shortly after their wedding in El Salvador. Theirs is a modern love story because it bloomed on social media, but traditional too because they had known each other for 13 years. Her husband’s parents are Salvadoran who moved to Canada when her husband was three years old. They met through Silvia’s best friend who is her husband’s cousin. When they first met in person, she didn’t know English and he couldn’t speak Spanish so they really didn’t go beyond “ola” and “hi.” However, they started a social media friendship in 2014 which evolved into romance. With the help of the internet (and Google translate), they maintained their relationship for four years.

When Silvia came here in 2018, all she knew was “hi,” “hello”, and “good morning.” She carried a small notebook with a few English sentences she thought she would need on her flight to Winnipeg. This proved helpful because without wi-fi she couldn’t use Google on her phone. She could laugh about it now but at that time, not being able to communicate made her scared.

A rough start

Silvia knew that learning English is a priority but a bad experience turned her off from learning. She enrolled in an English course but a mix-up placed her in the wrong class. On the first day, each student was asked to tell the group about themselves. In the middle of her introduction, the instructor interrupted and said, “What are you doing here?” At that moment, Silvia couldn’t answer and was put on the spot. “It felt like the time when I was a child at school and all my classmates were laughing at me, and I thought, ‘I need my mom’,” she recalls. The teacher then told her that she did not belong in the class. Silvia left crying. Because of this incident, she swore off learning English for a while.

Shortly after, Silvia received news that her father had passed away. This was followed by the start of the pandemic. All of these contributed to a tough first winter. “I felt depressed because my father had just died and winter was so dark. I thought, this is probably not the best place for me. Maybe I made a mistake coming here. But at the same time, I remember that my father was really happy for me. He knew my husband and his family and he said, ‘it’s a good family and he is a good man. You will be happy with him,’ she recalls.

Going outside and staying positive helped Silvia get through those dark days. “My husband always says, ‘try and go outside. Because if you don’t, you’ll probably be sick, or you’ll feel stressed or depressed.’ It was difficult but I tried to go outside just to walk or go to the mall. I think it’s very important,” she said.

“Now I know my neighbourhood very well because I walk around in winter and during summer. I also know the bus numbers, I say ‘this one is for the mall, the other is for the doctor,’ I know them very well,” Silvia added.

“I really need to learn English”

Silvia experienced a difficult pregnancy in 2020. It required frequent doctor visits and even surgery. Through all this, what she remembers most is feeling frustrated. “I couldn’t understand what the doctors were saying. My husband couldn’t come with me all the time, and translators at the hospital were not available. Before surgery, the doctor was telling me all the steps of the surgery, but I didn’t understand. ‘This was bad.’ I thought, I really need to learn English,” Silvia said.

She knew that she had to get over her rough start. So after her baby was born, she took some evening English classes at the Immigrant Center. Then, after testing at WELARC, she chose to learn with English Online. Enrolling in the LINC Home Study program allowed her to take classes in the comfort of her home which was ideal as she was taking care of a newborn and was scared of getting COVID again (she was infected and recovered earlier in the year).

“I definitely learn many things from English Online but I think for me the strongest is that I feel more confident. Before that I could only say ‘hi’ and ‘see you next Sunday,’ at church. Many times I make mistakes, but I feel more comfortable now when I speak with others,” Silvia said.

“I practice my English during the week when I connect with English Online. Learning here is helpful because you also learn about Canada, about Winnipeg, Manitoba. In the class you learn about the clothes to wear in winter. You learn about places to buy things, the beautiful parks in Manitoba, winter activities … many things that I didn’t know about. I also know a lot of vocabulary now. If you knew me two years ago, you’ll probably say, that’s not the same woman!” she added.

“The one thing is to be always positive. It’s important to be positive because if not, you will never live your life here, you will never enjoy the weather or the people around you.”

Silvia ortega dela cruz

Learning and living her best life

After sharing all her difficult experiences, Silvia was worried that newcomers, especially women and young mothers, might get discouraged about coming to Manitoba. She wants to emphasize that even if she went through some difficulties, she is happy that she came here. “Everything that happened in the past happened for a reason. It’s for me to grow up. I think it also happened so that I can help others. I want to do that,” she said.

She also continues to be optimistic about her goals in life. “I have many plans! I want to go to school. I need to decide if I want to continue being a teacher (she was a pre-school teacher in her home country). I also want to work or volunteer for a program that helps newcomers, mothers, or seniors,” she said. In the meantime, she continues to persevere in her English classes so that she could fulfill her plans.

She has this message for newcomers and those who are thinking of moving to Canada:
“The one thing is to be always positive. It’s important to be positive because if not, you will never live your life here, you will never enjoy the weather or the people around you. Winnipeg is a beautiful place especially if you’re a young parent. It’s a good place for my baby to grow up in. We have schools and parks around, and many things for him to do. What I really like about Winnipeg is that it’s quiet. It’s a very safe place and the people are very gentle. It’s really amazing and it’s a blessing to be here.”

“Also be patient because things don’t happen in one day. It’s a long process and you need to read about it. Do your research. Don’t just say, ‘oh my friend told me this and that,’ each person or family is different. Don’t just watch YouTube videos because not everything they say is true for everyone. (The process of) applying and living is Canada is not easy but it’s good. I’ve lived here for almost three years, and for me it’s a good experience because it’s a beautiful place, a beautiful city. Just be positive,” Silvia said.

Newcomer Story: Nguyen Thi Hoang Dung (Dzung Nguyen)

Dzung Nguyen

Dzung Nguyen was among the first to answer my request for interviewees. I had posted an ad asking for “stories that would inspire and help other newcomers,” and for Dzung, whose life has been all about helping others, it was a call she could not resist.

A drastic shift

Dzung’s daughter had always wanted to study abroad. They were looking at schools in the US and UK, but they eventually set their sights on Canada. “We chose Canada because of the quality of education. Also, it did not cost as much compared to the other countries we were considering. Another reason is that educational credentials are recognized nationwide here,” she said. With many of their friends advising them not to let their daughter go on her own, they decided to move as a family. This was a decision they thought that would be best not only for their daughter but also for their young son. The Nguyen family arrived in Manitoba in March 2019.

Finding herself at home and taking care of everything for her family was the first challenge. At the time they left Vietnam, Dzung and her husband were successful professionals. She was working in the engineering, auditing and sustainability industries for major companies like P&G (Procter and Gamble), CSCC (Cal Safety Compliance Corporation), STR (Specialized Technology Resources), UL (Underwriters Laboratories), BV (Bureau Veritas), CCRCSR (The Center of Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility), while her husband was also in auditing and consultation. “I have 27 years of working experience. I was used to travelling for work and helping people and organizations in various capacities. Back home, we had helpers who would do household chores for us. My mom and sister would also help take care of the kids while I was at work. That’s why it’s a big adjustment for me to be doing everything around the house,” she said. But Dzung also saw their move as a chance to help her family and be close to them. “When I was working and travelling, sometimes I didn’t even have time to talk to them,” she said.

To ease her adjustment, she set out to learn more about her new environment by availing of settlement services. She registered with Manitoba Start, Immigrant Centre and OFE where she attended orientations and trainings in her spare time. It was also at MB Start where she was referred to WELARC for language testing. From there, she availed of language courses with EESE, Red River College and English Online.

“In your home country, you have the support of your family and friends. They come to you even if you don’t say anything. In Canada, nobody will come to you if you don’t open your mouth, meaning, if you don’t speak and ask for help. This is why it is important to learn how to communicate and be open”

“I didn’t know that I had an accent”

I noticed that Dzung already spoke English quite well so I asked her why she needed language training. She said that accent was her problem.

“I actually didn’t know that I had an accent although I have communicated with many native English speakers before coming to Canada. I also learned English with Vietnamese teachers and no one told me about my weird accent when I was in Vietnam. In Canada, I don’t think people have a problem with my vocabulary and grammar but they don’t understand me because of my accent,” she said.

So aside from attending Nastashya and Blaine’s drop-in classes, she also has one-on-one training with EO. “You probably understand me very well now because I have been working with Nastashya. I love that she meets with me every week and for 20 minutes we work on my pronunciation,” she said.

A very dedicated student, Dzung knows that communication is essential to successful settlement. “In your home country, you have the support of your family and friends. They come to you even if you don’t say anything. In Canada, nobody will come to you if you don’t open your mouth, meaning, if you don’t speak and ask for help. This is why it is important to learn how to communicate and be open,” she said.

“Be mentally and emotionally prepared”

Shortly before moving to Canada, Dzung shared that she had lost family members in immediate succession. Her mother and mother-in-law passed away a few months before they left for Canada then a few months after, her brother-in-law and her cousin died. One month after landing, her father-in-law followed. Then five months after, they received word that her sister was sent to emergency then passed away during the pandemic. She tells it matter-of-factly but you’ll notice that it weighs heavy on her. “I don’t know why that happened. I think about them often and I miss them,” she said. Despite this tragic loss, Dzung was able to remain strong. She says that this experience outlines the importance of mental preparation before moving to a new country. Newcomers should be ready to handle challenges without the usual support of family members nearby.

Aside from this, she advices newcomers to:

  1. Be financially well-prepared. Expect that you won’t have a job for the first three to six months. She says that newcomers should have enough resources to take care of themselves and their family so that they won’t have to worry during this period.
  2. Learn everything. Dzung has an analytical approach to settlement. She observes, gathers information/trains, then strategizes. For example, she first explored online option/stock trading which is in line with her business acumen. She took trainings and learned more about it. However, when she realized that advanced training would require a significant investment in time and money, she shifted to owning a digital marketing business. She said that the venture allows more flexibility considering that she prioritizes time spent with her family. She also sees it as a chance to help more people succeed in digital business.
  3. Help others. She assists family and friends back home who are interested in immigrating by giving advice. She tells them to consider the International Student path because it will allow them to earn Canadian credentials which will make it easier for them to get a good job later on.
  4. Be open. Dzung is used to dealing with various climates and cultures because of her extensive travels. She says that being open to new experiences will make it easier for newcomers to adjust and have a smoother transition in Canada.

Newcomer Story: Brhan Abrha

Brhan looking at the camera

Brhan’s answer to the question “what do you like about Manitoba?” confused me.

She said “Oh, I like the shiny one. This one,” not realizing that she was pointing to snow. She added, “I love it so much, you know? I like looking at it from my window and it makes me happy when it’s so white and shiny. The sun with the snow – looking at it makes me happy!”

Quite an unusual response since most newcomers I’ve interviewed dreaded winter. But you see, Brhan has experienced winter before. She moved from Ethiopia to Denmark because her husband earned a scholarship there for his Masters and PhD. They had been living there for almost six years when they decided to move to Manitoba.

Memories of Copenhagen, Denmark

While in Copenhagen, Brhan and her husband grew their family to four. They were blessed with two sons which kept her busy. Later on Brhan was able to work part-time in a bakery and do cleaning jobs at the university where her husband was studying. They had built close ties there and felt part of a strong community. “We had a very social life in Denmark. We were connected with people from our church and our family there. Sometimes we miss that kind of environment. Even my son misses the get-togethers with friends after school. It’s very easy for kids to enjoy life there because there are many conveniences for them and winter is not like here,” Brhan said, pointing to Denmark’s mild climate.

Life was good but they realized that they needed to move for their children’s future. They were the only black kids at school and her eldest son started to have issues about this. “The kids just want to know so they touch his hair, skin, and ask him every day why he’s black,” Brhan said. It was heartbreaking for her to notice that her son was starting to resent the colour of his skin. The couple began thinking of going back to their home country or to one that is more multicultural and diverse. Luckily, they had a friend who was living in Manitoba who was willing to sponsor them. Brhan and her family landed in Winnipeg in October 2015.

English is harder than Danish

“Before I came to Canada, my plan was to go to school, graduate with another professional degree, get a job in my field and our life will be better. I thought English was not that hard because I studied in English schools and universities so I felt that I will improve (my English) quickly. But when I went to school, I discovered that it takes time. It became stressful for me. I spent studying five to six hours but I didn’t learn the way I want. So I decided to stop”, Brhan said.

“Someone told me that it can take three to four years to have the level of English I wanted. I could study but that would mean that my husband would be the only one working. We have family in our home country that we support so I said I have to work. I went to the Academy of Learning College and took the entrance exam for Health Care Aide. I passed, scoring 98%. So I decided to continue with the Health Care Aide course. I finished it and started working after I graduated in 2017,” she relates.

“I would like to add that learning with English Online is helping me in many ways, not only with the language. Attending classes also helps me not to feel lonely when I am staying home by myself. They always encourage me in my studies. They also help me in my settlement by providing information about who to contact when I have issues.”

Meanwhile, her husband recommended that she try English Online to continue improving her language skills. She joined the Live & Learn program and studied in her spare time. “I attend mostly Coffee Chats. I remember when I started, I was so afraid to speak that I was shaking. I wish the teacher would skip me when it was my turn to speak. But now, I am better. I am not afraid to speak. Learning here has given me more confidence. I think it helps me a lot in many ways, especially in my listening. I can understand most of the words now. I may not be able to speak or write very well (or as I want) but I am learning. It’s good, I like it,” she said.

“I would like to add that learning with English Online is helping me in many ways, not only with the language. Attending classes also helps me not to feel lonely when I am staying home by myself. They always encourage me in my studies. They also help me in my settlement by providing information about who to contact when I have issues. For example, when I told Blaine that I want to be a business person, he told me who I should contact for a license. When I wasn’t able to work due to the pandemic, he told me that I am eligible to apply for some benefits like CRCB. I am so happy to know them,” she said.

Working as an essential worker and soon-to-be business woman

Before the pandemic, the couple was planning on setting up a store to sell meat products and groceries. “My husband is a food scientist. We were planning on creating our own formula and then selling the products. But the pandemic came. Now we have to wait a couple of months,” she said.

“It wasn’t my plan to be a health care aide,” she continues. “I was planning to be a nurse or to own a business (my plan A and plan B). I want to handle my own time and to be my own boss. I also think that it is going to be the best arrangement for me and my family. But I feel that I need more English, I need more confidence,” she said.

In the meantime, Brhan continues to study and work part time. This allows her to take care of her growing family (they also have a daughter now) and support her sons’ adjustment to Canadian life. Much like the snow she loves looking at, her future shines bright as she continues to improve her English skills and work on her plans.

Newcomer Story: Gabriela Miranda Campero

Lady smiling and holding a maple leaf under her chin

“Dance is in my soul. You know us Mexicans, once we hear music, we have to dance (makes a gesture with her hands as if she’s dancing)!”

This made us laugh as we wrapped up the interview. Gabriela was going to attend “Aqua Zumba” later in the day and she was excited about it. She explains “it’s a fall program that the RM Gimli runs for eight weeks and it’s amazing because you hear music, you dance, and you are in a pool. There are only 10 spots in the class because of the pandemic. But in the summer, we held it in an outdoor pool here in Gimli.” Hearing her explain the program made me wish there was dancing in the pool in my area too.

As you can imagine, Gabriela is the kind of person who is bubbly and full of life. Aside from her work and English studies (and Zumba of course), she told me how gardening, camping with her husband in Manitoba’s beautiful parks, working out (she showed me her home gym) and cooking great food fills her days. In her five years in Canada, she has learned that you need to find time for the things you enjoy and make you happy to live a good life.

From Guanajuato, Mexico to Gimli, Manitoba

Gabriela moved to Canada for love. Her husband is a born and bred Manitoban from a small town called Komarno. She moved to Gimli in 2015 to join him, leaving behind a successful career in human resources and her bakery business in Mexico. “When I got here, it was not easy. I had to start from scratch. I am just so lucky that I have the support of my fabulous husband and his relatives who embraced me as a part of their family,” she said.

She also realized that she needed to refresh her English skills since what was taught in Mexico was very basic. “What we learned from school was the same every year. There’s the past tense, present tense, and all that. English is very different once you’re in Canada,” she said. This limited her job prospects but because of her can-do spirit, Gabriela found a job right away after she had her work permit. A local bakery hired her immediately after she told the owner all about her successful business in Mexico.

“It is a pleasure to learn with Irina and Yini. The weekly lessons are delivered through the internet and it’s very personalized. They are also cheerful, motivating and accommodating. When I need to re-schedule, they are always very understanding. This makes me want to do better in my studies.”

Discovering settlement services

After two years of working in the bakery, her employer unfortunately had to let her go. The business was seasonal and they could not afford to keep her. It was then that her husband told her about the Manitoba Jobs and Skills Development Centre which provided employment assistance. A staff member there helped update her resume to the Canadian format. She also took a language test at WELARC where she learned about English Online. “I didn’t know that these services existed and I could learn online. English Online appealed to me because I live in the country, I didn’t have to travel. I don’t like driving in the city,” she said.

With her newly-tailored resume, Gabriela applied and was hired by the Gimli Seniors Resource Council Inc. It’s a job that she is proud of because it allows her to serve the community and do something she loves – cooking. “The opportunity to cook different things and be part of this amazing service to bring food to the seniors makes me feel so happy and so part of the community,” she said.

She also enrolled in LINC Home Study with English Online to improve her English skills and to be able to eventually apply for citizenship. “It is a pleasure to learn with Irina and Yini. The weekly lessons are delivered through the internet and it’s very personalized. They are also cheerful, motivating and accommodating. When I need to re-schedule, they are always very understanding. This makes me want to do better in my studies,” she said.

Gabriela is already reaping the benefits of her diligent studies. “Since learning online, I feel confident about speaking to others, not just to my husband. I like talking to the seniors at my work and checking up on them. Even my friends have noticed how much my English has improved,” she shares. She is optimistic that she’ll reach her goal of getting a CLB score of all eights (for the four skill areas) as she continues to persevere.

Another support service she discovered was assistance for her spousal visa application. “I was browsing through Facebook and saw that the Immigrant Centre can help us file our papers for spousal visa. I was very impressed with all the resources. They helped us with the translations for all the documents that I needed to submit. That was awesome because I didn’t need to hire a lawyer. Now, I tell everybody about all these amazing services,” she said.

Manitoba is my home

Recently, Gabriela had to deal with another major development in her life. She was diagnosed with diabetes about three months ago. But as a testament to her resilience, she is able to deal with it in a positive way.

“Changing my diet was a big challenge for me. But after these months, I am doing very well. I think this experience has made me stronger. It made me realize that I have to change and stay active to have a good quality of life,” she said. It also made her appreciate Canada’s health care services. “Health care is very good quality here. It’s very complete,” she added.

This is why after five years, Gabriela can say that she has adapted well to life in Canada. She shares that she could not imagine living anywhere else. “I think Manitoba has everything, it has a great landscape, very friendly people, and with the local shopping I can do here, I can find my ingredients – tortillas, peppers, cheese, chorizo – and make the flavours that make me happy. I don’t have to miss them,” she said.

However, she does miss her friends and family back home. “I have a small family but we are very close. Being far from them is one of my biggest challenges. Being here means I am missing a kiss from my mom, a hug from my sister and not seeing how my little niece is growing up. Adapting here does not mean you forget your family and friends in your home country. You should always maintain communication with them. Awesome digital services help a lot in keeping close connection with our loved ones who are far away,” she said.

“I know my country is wonderful in so many aspects but I think that the quality of life here in Canada is 10 times better. When my friends ask me when I will go home, I tell them ‘I am home’,” Gabriela said. “This experience made me realize I have accomplished so many goals in my life here which helped me reinforce my self-esteem. Starting a new life at 45 is not easy but it is so rewarding,” she added.

Tips to newcomers:

  1. Prepare before you move here. “Know all that you can about jobs, services and resources. Be ready mentally and physically because the weather is going to be challenging mentally and physically. You also need to be ready to start a new life and leave the past in the past.”
  2. Be open -“You need to embrace different cultures. The people here in Gimli, I’m happy to say, are non-racist. They are very open. This makes me so happy to live here.”
  3. Follow the rules – “In my culture, sometimes some people don’t follow the rules. But you need to be aware that in Canada, the people are very nice but you need to follow the laws very well. If they say you cannot drive without a license, you don’t do it. If they say you need to have insurance, you need to have insurance.”
  4. Enjoy life -“Try to have different hobbies. Meet different people. Don’t be afraid to speak to people. At the start, it can be hard because they may not understand you but sooner or later, if you keep on practicing, you’re going to improve. Don’t speak only your native language. When you communicate with more people, you will be able to adapt better.”
  5. Ask for help –“If you don’t understand something, ask for help. Don’t do it all on your own. The government funds these wonderful services to help immigrants so that we can start learning and working right away.”

Newcomer Story: Chokri

Man wearing sunglasses with a slight smileIt was a good day to talk to Chokri. He just got the results of his language test which showed that his skill level has moved up to intermediate in speaking. To think he had just started learning English a few months ago, it is indeed an achievement worth celebrating.

When he arrived in Manitoba in December last year, he couldn’t understand English. He could laugh about it now, but he would just say “okay, okay” whenever bus drivers spoke to him even if he didn’t understand them. He did this because drivers would usually repeat what they’ve said and he still couldn’t understand. He quickly realized that learning English was necessary for everyday life. He also didn’t like the prospect of being dependent (his wife had to accompany him everywhere he went) so he resolved to study English immediately.

Francophones from Tunisia

Chokri and his family are from Djerba which is a lovely island in the southern coast of Tunisia, a North African country. French is widely spoken there, so he already has one official language under his belt. “In Tunisia we didn’t speak English in society. We are Francophone. Our local media is also in French or Arabic,” he said.

Chokri and his wife have advanced degrees and are experienced professionals in their respective fields. In fact, his wife recently got hired at the University of St. Boniface where she will start teaching management and finance in September. Meanwhile, Chokri will also be entering the same university, but as a student (Baccalauréat en éducation). Despite having 26 years of experience in the academe – teaching physics and chemistry for 25 years and serving as a Vice Director for a year – he needs to be certified to teach high school. Nevertheless, he is looking forward to the process and does not consider it a challenge. “Challenge is a big word. Really, I am always optimistic. Anyway I have the education and experience. And now (by studying with English Online), I have online experience. As long as you are determined, I am sure that you’re going to succeed, he said. “I have no intention of leaving my career. I love teaching and helping students. It is a noble profession and I believe that educators play an important role in society,” he added.

Before school starts, he is maximizing his time learning English, taking care of his kids (the couple has two teenagers), and learning more about his new home. While things are complicated because of the ongoing pandemic, he is still able to discover new things about his environment. “When I arrived, we didn’t have a car. I didn’t take the bus for grocery shopping. The temperature was -20, which I have not experienced in any other country. After three months, I discovered that it was possible to call a taxi to take groceries to my house. In my country, if you call a taxi and take it for a short distance, some drivers will not be happy. Then later, a parent of my son’s friend told me about delivery. It’s a good idea and I was happy with this suggestion. This advice was a small thing but it made us feel that we are not alone. However, in many cases we didn’t choose delivery because we could not see what we were buying. And it had to reach a certain amount (minimum order is about $70). So we still went to the stores, by bus or any means. This way we get exactly what we need. I hope to succeed in getting my driver’s license soon but in the meantime, we can ride our bikes in summer. It’s great because we also get exercise and we see the beauty all around us,” he said.

“I learned that when learning English, you need to focus on SMART goals. I plan and choose the suitable process of learning to get results. So I began by learning the basics of listening, reading and speaking. And then I will focus on writing skills as a long term goal. I attended all of the classes to help me and I can see that I have improved based on the evaluation”

Learning English online

“I wish I had known about English Online earlier,” he said. Chokri was first referred to a face to face EAL class at River East Transcona (RETIS). When the quarantine started, he didn’t want to reduce his time learning English so he was referred to EO’s Live & Learn program.

At first, he had a bit of difficulty because he was not used to online learning. But when he got used to the technical aspect, participating became a breeze. “I attend all of the classes of Blaine, Pam and Nastashya. I don’t do all my homework (laughs) because I’m busy but I always participate fully. I really want to progress. I just wish I had more time. So for now, I prioritize and use my SMART goals,” he said. As a testament to his diligence, he relates his experience with Blaine, one of the e-facilitators: “I think on the first day, Blaine asked me to write a short introduction about myself. What I did instead was write my entire history! So I think this is why Blaine remembers me and recommended me for a story,” he said with a chuckle.

“I like the complementarity of all the events,” he continues. “I feel that the designer of these courses saw to it that the courses go together – I mean that you can’t take just one and not attend the others. There is complementarity even in the way they deliver the courses,” he said. “I think your work online is innovative. It’s very interesting. You have the potential to have more students because of technology. And I think you’ll have a lot more opportunities to help students during this time of pandemic”, he added.

The educator also shared how he learned how to maximize his time. “I learned that when learning English, you need to focus on SMART goals. I plan and choose the suitable process of learning to get results. So I began by learning the basics of listening, reading and speaking. And then I will focus on writing skills as a long term goal. I attended all of the classes to help me and I can see that I have improved based on the evaluation,” he said. Another proof of this is a recent achievement. He was able to go to a doctor’s appointment on his own. “Three months ago, I would never have thought that this could happen. I would have needed my wife’s help for this. I can now communicate with my doctor and I was very happy. But I know that there is still a lot of work that I should do. English vocabulary is very rich and I should choose the best way to preserve the level I have now,” he said.

Because of his progress, Chokri sees that his prospects have expanded. “The first possibility is to have the certification to start working as an auxillary (assistant) at one of the high schools. On the second year, I can get my permanent certification and start teaching. Another possibility for the long term is to progress with my English and finish my certification. In this case, I can work at any school, whether Francophone or English,” he said.

Beautiful Manitoba and Manitobans

Chokri and his family are taking advantage of the good weather to get on their bikes, see the sights and learn more about their new home. “We love Manitoba’s wonderful rivers and lakes. We love its overall landscape. It’s very beautiful. But more than the rivers and lakes, we like the people of Manitoba. People are friendly and helpful and this is very important when you’re a newcomer. Our neighbor has this sign in their garden that says ‘No matter where you come from, you’re welcome here.’ This touched my heart. To me this is significant because it makes us feel safe and supported,” he said.

He ends the interview with this advice: “My advice to newcomers is not to waste time. Try as early as possible to register to English Online and make your time at home productive. Diagnose your own linguistic needs and then set your SMART goals. Ask your facilitator’s help and choose the right learning program for you. All the tools are there for you to use and succeed.”

Being the thoughtful person that he is, he also took this opportunity to thank those who have been helping him in his settlement journey. “I would like to thank you and the entire Live & Learn team especially Blaine, Pam and Nastashya who are extremely friendly, helpful and efficient. I am also grateful to Valeria from the Immigrant Centre, and the River East Transcona Immigrant Services Team and my EAL teacher Angie Anns who provided fabulous help during the difficult period of COVID-19. They were helping us even before the pandemic and so we never felt alone. I would also like to thank Manitoba Start, Pluri-Elles, CDEM and especially Accueil Francophone for their services before departure and during our first months after our arrival in Winnipeg,” he said.