Newcomer Stories

Newcomer story: Zainab (Jeny) Ghulam Rasool

Zainab2 “Leaving behind our loved ones was not an easy task. But with the understanding of the seniors in our family, we made the decision to move to Canada,” Zainab said. The Rasool family chose to move to Canada from Pakistan for safety and security. They saw that it is a country where residents benefit from services and are given many opportunities for growth. Most importantly, as parents of three children, Zainab and her husband were looking for a place where they can provide the best education and quality of life for their kids. With the urging of their close friends who have settled in Winnipeg, they made plans to immigrate. In April 2012, Zainab and her six-year-old daughter arrived in Winnipeg.

Today, with her entire family now settled in Manitoba, Zainab is happy to see her kids thriving. Her two older children are currently enrolled at the University of Manitoba, and her youngest child, who is in grade five, is studying at a French immersion school.

“I decided to learn with EO because I am a homemaker and because I was already facing the challenges of weather, culture, and lifestyle. Being online was convenient, easily accessible and flexible. Honestly speaking, at that time, I did not have good computer skills but the EO staff helped me understand the whole system.”

Understanding Manitobans

Zainab recalls that in her first few days in Winnipeg, she had to adjust to the weather, language, and culture. However, she said that “the greatest challenge for me was understanding the accent of Manitobans and how to communicate.”

To help remedy this, she started looking for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Zainab took a CLB test at WELARC and learned about her options. She chose to register with English Online (EO) mainly for convenience. “I decided to learn with EO because I am a homemaker and because I was already facing the challenges of weather, culture, and lifestyle. Studying online was convenient, easily accessible and flexible. Honestly speaking, at that time, I did not have good computer skills but the EO staff helped me understand the whole system,” Zainab said.

Building confidence

At first, Zainab concentrated on improving her English language skills. Eventually, she took courses on improving computer skills, resume and cover letter preparation, and job interview preparation.

“There are so many reasons to like the EO program,” Zainab gushes. “Its system is simple, the facilitators are friendly, and you can interact with people from different origins, nationalities. Through EO, you can sit at home and get valuable knowledge. EO has helped increase my confidence. Now I can communicate in English confidently, without hesitation. EO has also helped me improve my email writing skills and my way of sharing new ideas and information.”

“It will not be justified if I do not praise respected e-facilitators Blaine Roberts, Iwona, Stephanie Stetefeld, and Yulia because of their patience, positive attitude, and friendly way of teaching. Erum Imran and Blaine are working hard to make all of us autonomous learners. I am also in close contact with e-volunteer coordinator, Tatiana who is always there ready to help everyone,” Zainab said.

To date, Zainab has become one of EO’s most loyal learners. She has been with EO for almost four years now and continues to sign up for learning activities. Six months ago, her involvement with the organization reached a new level when she signed up as a settlement e-volunteer. Volunteering with EO affords her the opportunity to share her experience with newcomers and practice what she does best – help others. Zainab was a counsellor for women in her community back when she was in Pakistan.

“Based on my experience, having proper information is the best tool to solve a problem. I advise newcomers to know more about Manitoba – the lifestyle, weather, culture, system, and others. They should not hesitate nor feel shy about asking for information. EO is one of the best sources of settlement information and guidance. I advise newcomers to register with EO and avail of the free service”, Zainab said.

A dream come true

With her communication skills continuing to flourish, Zainab took a big step towards realizing a dream. In January 2015, she enrolled in a Certificate Program in Applied Counselling at the University of Manitoba.

Zainab, who has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, had always wanted to pursue further studies. This was not possible in her home country as advanced studies were not easily accessible to everyone. Last year, while attending a seminar at Manitoba Start, she met a representative from the University of Manitoba who advised her to enroll in the program. Today, she is well on her way to becoming a certified counsellor. “I am hopeful that I will get my certification in 2017. Then I will be a ‘certified counsellor’. That day will mark a great achievement in my life,” Zainab said.

In the meantime, she continues to study and volunteer with EO as she completes her program at the U of M. But as early as now, she has set her sights on ways to give back to the community the best way she can. Zainab is planning to volunteer as a counsellor in various agencies after she acquires her certification. “My future plan is to serve the Manitoban community as a certified counsellor. They are my people,” Zainab said.

Newcomer story: Mervi Nishantha Gunatilaka

Mervi's fam photoLike most newcomers, Mervi Nishantha Gunatilaka and his wife decided to immigrate to Manitoba because they wanted what was best for their children. “We wanted to move mainly to find better education for our children. University education in my home country is very competitive. There are a limited number of places available. I decided to go to a country that will expose them to a better educational environment with better living conditions,” Mervi said.

His concern for his kids’ future pushed him to see their plans through even if it meant leaving his burgeoning career behind. Mervi had just been promoted to Chief Engineer at the Ceylon Electricity Board. This was a culmination of 10 years of hard work. He started as area electrical engineer and worked his way up to project engineer, then finally the chief post. But love for his family won out and with the support of a friend, he applied to the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program and hoped for the best.

“Settling in a new country is a challenging task. We have to undergo many transitions. Mental anguish happens when we do not get culturally expected results. But if we study, understand, and be better prepared for them, we can face challenges easily.”

Licensing and other concerns

While still in Sri Lanka, Mervi wanted to prepare for their new life as early as he could. Once he received his provincial nomination (which allowed him to apply for a permanent resident visa), he started searching for resources to help him. He came to learn about the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) on the internet and participated in an online orientation. “During the CIIP, I learned about the different institutions in Manitoba. I wrote to Red River College asking for more online orientation. Red River College recommended English Online (EO) and suggested that I follow EO activities. That is how I learned about EO,” Mervi recalls.

Mervi says that he has availed of almost all of EO’s services. “English Online connected me with an e-tutor to improve my English. My English tutor was a Canadian-born, retired gentleman. We did 10 one hour online sessions for 10 weeks. That was very helpful.”

Aside from an e-tutor, Mervi also availed of the services of an e-mentor. “Another great help for me was my e-mentor. He helped me learn about the engineering field in Manitoba. I learned that electrical engineering is a regulated occupation and that I would need a license. This helped me prepare even before I came to Manitoba,” Mervi said.

He also participated in other activities like the virtual coffee chats which he says helped him learn about Canadian life, culture, and settlement. Moreover, it connected him with other services he needed. “During one virtual coffee chat, I came to know about the Immigrant Centre. I registered with them and they provided me with valuable online pre-arrival sessions for many weeks,” Mervi said. To this date, Mervi continues to be an English Online learner, attending workshops, courses, and coffee chats in his free time.

Preparation and perseverance

Mervi and his family landed in Winnipeg on March 10, 2016 and have started to build their new life in the city. The greatest challenge facing him right now is finding work as a professional in his field. Rebuilding a 17-year career is not an easy task, and despite being highly skilled and experienced, he would need to achieve a P.Eng (professional engineer) qualification which will allow him to work as an engineer. But with Mervi’s preparation, perseverance, and openness to learning, he is well on his way toward meeting his goals.

“Settling in a new country is a challenging task. We have to undergo many transitions. Mental anguish happens when we do not get culturally expected results. But if we study, understand, and be better prepared for them, we can face challenges easily,” Mervi said.

Newcomer story: Nikita Kovyazin

NikitaHe appeared on Skype exactly at 1 p.m. Winnipeg time for the interview. Meanwhile, it was nearly 9 p.m. in Russia where Nikita lives. Despite the lateness, he was ever gracious and ready to share his experiences.

Not officially a newcomer yet, Nikita and his family are just waiting for their visas to arrive. In fact, he has not quit his job and is still working full time in Moscow. This is why he can prepare for their impending move only during his spare time. Finding Live & Learn was serendipitous for Nikita as it has provided a way for him to learn in his own time while still in his home country. Through the website’s resources and online community, he is able to learn about Manitoba, practice his English, and connect with other new Manitobans.

Waiting for their visas

Originally from Ukraine, Nikita moved to Moscow in 1995. There he worked for various companies for 20 years, building a successful career in sales. Currently, he is a sales manager for the multinational tobacco company, Philip Morris. Despite his career success, Nikita and his wife decided to immigrate to Canada because they want to give their children, aged 10 and six, a better future. “I feel that my kids will have more opportunities for growth in Canada,” Nikita said.

Prior to applying for immigration, Nikita did not know much about Manitoba. He did extensive research on the province, learning about its economy, cost of living, immigration streams, and employment prospects. He also learned about Manitoba’s vibrant multicultural communities, among them strong Russian and Ukrainian groups. He fondly recalls learning about Folklorama, having been acquainted with some of the event’s organizers and volunteers from the Association of Russian-speaking Manitobans. He met them at the ambassadors’ nomination dinner in Winnipeg one week prior to the festival in 2015. He looks forward to attending the cultural event with his family next year. In the meantime, Nikita continues to prepare and plan for their eventual move by August-September of this year, just in time for the school opening.

The best thing about learning with English Online is that it gives me the opportunity to communicate with a variety of people from different countries. We don’t only learn from an e-facilitator, we learn from all the participants. It is great to share views, hear about different experiences, varied accents, and different levels of English! This experience prepares us for living in Winnipeg as it is the most diverse city in the world

“It’s like going around the world”

An independent search on the internet actually led Nikita to Live & Learn. He was amazed to find free online services specifically targeted for new Manitobans. Since then he has been one of English Online’s most active learners, participating in many settlement and language activities. He also reads settlement articles which he feels provide useful information for living and working in Manitoba. Nikita’s favorite activity is the Coffee Chats where he participates in online discussions about various settlement topics.

“The best thing about learning with English Online is that it gives me the opportunity to communicate with a variety of people from different countries. Some of them still in their home countries and some already in Winnipeg. We don’t only learn from an e-facilitator, we learn from all the participants. It is great to share views, hear about different experiences, varied accents, and different levels of English! This experience prepares us for living in Winnipeg as it is the most diverse city in the world,” Nikita said.

“Another good thing is that we don’t even need to come out of our homes. It’s like going around the world without leaving your seat,” Nikita added. He looks forward to integrating into the Canadian community immediately after their arrival since he believes that it is crucial to avoid sticking to only one cultural group.

No looking back

Despite the excitement of their impending move, Nikita stays grounded. As early as now, he is setting realistic expectations about life in Canada. Just like all other immigrants, he is concerned about employment prospects, setting up their financial future, and of course, the adjustment of his wife, especially their children. But over and above these concerns, he continues to be optimistic.

Nikita imparts this advice to new immigrants like him: “To all newcomers, I advise them to be brave, and be open to new experience, new environment. Don’t look back! As soon as you decide to move to Canada, embrace your new life. Along the way, there will be a lot of troubles and doubts, but don’t let these get you down. Remember your ultimate goal, why you came to Canada. That will help you stay on target. There’s no looking back,” Nikita said.

Newcomer story: Joy Frett

joynew (1)“Be in the present, there is nothing more important. You should not worry about the past or be anxious about the future. We only have limited time, so don’t waste it on worrying. The best time is the present.“

This is what Joy said when asked for a message for other newcomers like him. Sage words from a wise man. And quite eloquent from someone who, just about two years ago, did not speak any English at all.

Joy Frett and his wife, Rosily Kochuvareed, were newcomers to Toronto when Rosalie was offered an opportunity to work as a social worker by the Manitoba Health Sector. A year after moving to Ontario from India, they moved once again and landed in Manitoba on March 29, 2014. The couple settled in Dauphin, a scenic city that is part of Manitoba’s Parkland Region.

An accomplished engineer and manager

Prior to moving to Canada, Joy was a field engineer and business owner who travelled extensively. Later on, he accepted a position as a Technical Manager for the Al-Massel Group, a general trading and contracting company in Kuwait. Before leaving for Canada, he had been working with the company for 17 years. Despite this success, Joy and his wife immigrated to Canada in search of a better life.

At first, the couple was worried about the harsh winters they were told they would face in Dauphin. They were also uncertain about finding decent and affordable accommodations because they did not know anybody from the city. And, with the predominantly Ukrainian community there, they thought that they would have problems fitting in.

“I like the enthusiasm, involvement and team spirit of e-facilitators. They are always open to listen and encourage the participants to communicate their own ideas and views in various important topics. I feel all participants are comfortable to talk and learn in the group. Irrespective of language capabilities, e-facilitators ensure that everyone gets their turn. Also, the topics discussed in the group have great importance in our daily life. These virtual classes really motivate newcomers to work on their language”

It turns out that their worries were unfounded. With advice from their friends, Joy and his wife were able to find a good place to live in. They found that the community was quite welcoming and open to other cultures, so they had no problems integrating. As for the weather, Joy could only smile when he thought about his fears. “In the past two years that we’ve been here, we have been experiencing the mildest winters. The weather here is even better than in Toronto,” he said.

This left Joy with his final concern – learning English. He knew Arabic and Malayalam (a mix of Tamil and Telugu languages) and did not speak English at all. It was a good thing that Joy learned about English Online (EO) from the Friendship Centre in Dauphin.

An active learner

Wasting no time, he registered with EO. He became active in Coffee Chats, Drop-in Workshops and attended Multi-Week sessions. Later on, he joined the LINC Home Study program to further hone his language skills. He has been, and continues to be, one of EO’s most active learners, making the most out of the sessions and connecting with the e-facilitators and e-tutors.

“I like the enthusiasm, involvement and team spirit of e-facilitators. They are always open to listen and encourage the participants to communicate their own ideas and views in various important topics. I feel all participants are comfortable to talk and learn in the group. Irrespective of language capabilities, e-facilitators ensure that everyone gets their turn. Also, the topics discussed in the group have great importance in our daily life. These virtual classes really motivate newcomers to work on their language,” Joy said.

“I appreciate all the efforts of Yulia, Blaine, Arra, Iwona, Margarita, and my e-tutor Louise. I am thankful especially to Blaine, who I regard as more than an e-facilitator; I consider him my friend. He is a dedicated teacher. He is always ready to assist me whenever I need help, sometimes even when he is off or during weekends,” he added.

Staying positive and being mindful of the present

Aside from his English classes, Joy is currently busy volunteering and making connections in his community. Just a few months ago, he volunteered for the former MP for Dauphin (between 1980-1984) Laverne Lewycky. He had the opportunity to go along with him during courtesy visits. Through this exposure, Joy learned many things about the process of community-building. From Mr. Lewycky himself, Joy was thankful that he learned many phrases and proverbs in English. Aside from these, it allowed him to interact and mingle with the community, which, Joy says, is essential to settling in a new place. He believes that to really learn the culture of a country, you have to observe and immerse yourself.

He further advises newcomers to stay connected with local settlement providers and community organizations, learn to network, and understand multiculturalism. Most importantly, he emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning. “Be ready for continuous education and skill development. Maximize your time for learning but don’t forget to allot time for enjoyment,” Joy said.

The change of pace for Joy to a much calmer lifestyle seems to agree with him. He is positive that he will soon prosper career-wise, but in the meantime, he is enjoying volunteering, learning English and the Canadian culture, and taking care of his wife. “We like living in Manitoba. The people are friendly, the landscape is beautiful, there is no congestion and it is very easy to move around. My wife and I are happy here,” Joy said.

Newcomer Story: Ashraf Kharazi

Ashraf2The first time I met Ashraf in person was when she visited the English Online office to meet with Blaine, one of our e-facilitators. She was a petite lady, but she had a strong positive presence. She was all smiles and said “thank you!” to each of us as she was introduced. The visit was a rare treat for us, because we usually meet our learners online.

Weeks later, I was fortunate to meet Ashraf again, this time on Skype. I had asked to interview her for a learner story and she agreed. Ashraf had just come home after working as a lunch assistant at a nearby school and was probably tired, but she was smiling on screen exactly at 2:00 p.m. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I was impressed by how well she could converse. She pauses sometimes to recall certain words, but her sentences are clear and correctly constructed. The gracious lady thanked me for contacting her, even if it was I who requested the meeting.

During their first few days in Manitoba, the couple quickly learned that in order to do tasks like shopping, seeing a doctor, and to avail of basic services, they needed to know English. Despite having their kids to assist them, Ashraf and her husband did not want to depend on them. This was why the couple decided to enroll in English classes right away.

Proud grandma
Ashraf and her husband came to Manitoba just eight months ago (they came in June 2015) from Iran. The couple’s two children have been living in Manitoba for several years now – the daughter came here 14 years ago and the son had been here for four years. Ashraf and her husband came to Manitoba because they wanted their family to be reunited, especially now that they had three grandchildren. “I want to be close to my grandchildren (an eight-year-old boy and twin girls aged 10). I can now go and visit them during weekends and it makes me happy,” Ashraf said.

During their first few days in Manitoba, the couple quickly learned that in order to do tasks like shopping, seeing a doctor, and to avail of basic services, they needed to know English. Despite having their kids to assist them, Ashraf and her husband did not want to depend on them. This was why the couple decided to enroll in English classes right away. However, when Ashraf accepted the lunch assistant job, she found that she could not join her husband in a daily, face to face English class.

Learning online

Prior to coming to Manitoba, Ashraf had already taken some English classes. However, the retired teacher felt that she needed to improve her English more, and so she tried English Online. The flexible schedule and the topics appealed to her. “I attend coffee chats where I learn with a group of people from other countries like India, Pakistan; it is good. Everyone is so friendly and helpful, Ashraf said.

To further accelerate her learning, she was matched with an EAL e-tutor.“My e-tutor, Carol, is from Vancouver. She is a very good and a very nice teacher. We meet once a week and she gives me homework,” she said. For Ashraf, the best thing about learning with English Online is “learning useful things without going outside. I can learn when I don’t have time to go to class,” she added. But more than this, learning with English Online has given her independence. “Now I can go shopping by myself, she says. I don’t have to bother my children. I still need my daughter to come with me when I go to the doctor, but for shopping, I can do it myself,” Ashraf said.

“Don’t worry, everything here is good!

In the course of our conversation, Ashraf mentioned that she had a minor accident last week. “I slipped and fell on the ice at school. But it’s okay, a lot of people, especially the kids helped me. The doctor told me nothing was broken but I had to rest, so I did not go to school for two days. But I am okay now,” Ashraf said. When I expressed my concern, she flashed her smile again, as if to say, that “it is nothing”.

This positivity and can-do spirit are quite admirable. Ashraf is the kind of person who does not let circumstances get her down. So when she shared her plans on going back to teaching in the near future, I had no doubt in my mind that she will succeed.

When asked for advice for her fellow newcomers, Ashraf said: “Don’t worry, everything here is very good. A lot of people will help you when you come here. Don’t stop learning. Go and learn English, she said.”

Newcomer story: Maysoun Darweesh

MaysounShe came on screen for our Skype interview smiling and gracious, although looking a bit tired. Maysoun had a busy day at work and had just arrived from driving her two daughters to their after-school activities. Nevertheless, during our conversation, she was pleasant and quite positive about her life and daily activities. Talking to her, you wouldn’t catch any hint of bitterness or angst for all that she had gone through in her life.

The Darweesh family’s struggle began years before the current Syrian refugee crisis that we know of now. About 10 years ago, Maysoun and her husband, both human rights activists, began to be persecuted by the Syrian government. Her husband was a businessman (he owned a company) who suffered for his three years of human rights work. He was picked up by the authorities, imprisoned and tortured. He fled the country the first chance he got and went to China.

From Syria to Macau

Meanwhile, it became evident that Maysoun and her kids had to leave Syria for two things. First, she feared for their lives because of her work as a journalist and because of the daily threats by the Syrian secret police. The police rounded up their friends who were active with them in their human rights work, and even imprisoned her husband’s brother to pressure them to give up her husband. Second, her husband needed her help because he was stuck in Macau. He went there to extend his visa but while there, his luggage and all his belongings, were stolen. Desperate to leave the country, Maysoun sought all means to depart from Syria. When she finally got the approval to do so, the next step was going through the grueling travel from Damascus to Dubai, Dubai to Hongkong, then finally to Macau, via boat, plane, and ferry. She went through all these with her young children, a three-year old and an eight-month old, in tow.

Reunited with her husband, life in Macau became stable for the family. They were free from persecution, and they were cared for by a support group of multinational friends who helped them live fruitful lives there. However, after being assured that they would be granted residency in the country, they were told that they can live in Macau but their rights and freedoms would be limited. This signaled another struggle for the family which led them to seek better options. At one point, officials threatened deportation which moved them to take their case to court. Despite winning the case, they felt that there was no future for them in Macau. Fortunately, the Winnipeg-based Douglas Mennonite Church came to the rescue. The church’s sponsorship was approved and the Darweesh family were Manitoba-bound.

“Syrian refugees just need a chance. They are peaceful people. Just like you and me, they just want a place where they can be human again, and to raise their families in peace. They are victims of circumstances that they cannot control and this could happen to anybody. They deserve our understanding and support”

Life in Manitoba

They arrived in Winnipeg on December 13, 2012, a date that is unforgettable for Maysoun. Coming here, she felt that her family could finally live in freedom and in peace. It is a place where they can be “fully human” again.

Although they had been living in constant flux, life in Winnipeg was not really alien to Maysoun and her family. “We had a lot of western friends in Macau. We even celebrated occasions like Thanksgiving when we were there. I feel like our five years in Macau was training for our new life here in Canada,” she said. Quite fluent in English, she decided that the best way to settle was to immerse in the culture, mingle with Canadian neighbors, and become active in the community.

Another priority for Maysoun was her professional development. Although the experienced journalist and social worker was already proficient in English, she felt that she needed to improve her writing skills when she arrived in Manitoba. “I can be very hard on myself. I set high standards, especially when it comes to my abilities, I always want to be better,” she said. However, since she was doing shift work then, she did not have time for a regular program. She learned about English Online from one of her colleagues and decided to try it.

After learning with EO, she saw a marked improvement in her writing skills. “My e-facilitator, Iwona, told me to compare my earlier essays with my recent ones and I can see that I have vastly improved. I think that this online program is amazing! I am grateful for all the assistance and friendship that EO, especially, Iwona has extended. It helped me a lot when I was starting out,” she said.

One more thing that Maysoun is still adjusting to is keeping up with parenting. Since she wants her kids to have a normal Canadian childhood, she makes it a point that they become exposed to the usual activities that children their age are busy with. But sometimes, these activities can take their toll, especially with her work and other concerns. But the spunky mom takes it all in stride and sees everything in a positive light. ”We’re doing our best and we’re keeping up,” she says with a smile.

The need to feel human

Asked about the coming influx of Syrian refugees to Manitoba, Maysoun shares an expert’s perspective. Having had ample experience in settlement work in China and here in Manitoba, plus, being Syrian herself, she has a deep understanding of what these newcomers are dealing with. “Syrian refugees just need a chance. They are peaceful people. Just like you and me, they just want a place where they can be human again, and to raise their families in peace. They are victims of circumstances that they cannot control and this could happen to anybody. They deserve our understanding and support,” Maysoun said.

For her fellow Syrians, Maysoun shares these tips to ease their settlement:

“For these newcomers, I say that upon landing on Canadian soil, they should decide that this is now their country. This is their new home. They should establish a real sense of belonging to this land. I advise them to go out and immerse themselves, and meet people. They should not live in ethnic enclaves.

“It is very important that they should keep themselves busy. I would advise them to start learning English immediately when they get here. Knowledge of the language would lead them to job opportunities and help them adjust to life here faster. There are a lot of good support services in Manitoba (and I highly recommend English Online!). While they are still unemployed, they should do volunteer work. It will give them a good experience. They should continue being active in the community and take every opportunity to give back,” she said.