Newcomer Stories

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.

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.”

Newcomer Story: Oleksandr Hryntsiv

OleksandrOleksandr and his family came to Manitoba from Ukraine in March 2014. A close friend convinced him to immigrate to the province and offered to sponsor them. So, together with his wife and three year old son, the family settled in Portage la Prairie, a small city in the Central Plains region of Manitoba, 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

Adjustment period

When they arrived in Manitoba, Oleksandr found it difficult at first to adjust to the culture, transportation, and especially the language. “Aside from learning English, I had to learn how to communicate in an indirect way. I found that people here are always so polite and service is (pleasantly) different,” he said.

With the help of his friends, he began to seek out settlement support services, such as Manitoba Start, to help him get the proper information and the training that he needed to get a job. A bigger challenge, however, was the distance. He realized that some of the services that he needed were in Winnipeg, which required a long travel from Portage la Prairie. This wasn’t easy, especially during the winter.

In the meantime, he and his wife attended the Newcomer Welcome Centre in town for ESL training. But once Oleksandr started working, he found it hard to find free time for language training and to attend face to face classes.

“I could not believe that I could find somebody in my own field who would be willing to teach me and help me. Mercedes Hudson, my e-mentor, introduced me to the Certified Technicians and Technologists Association of Manitoba (CCTAM) and helped me get my educational credentials and experience assessed,” he said.

The online option

Oleksandr knew that he needed English language training so he tried to look for other options. It was through the good people at the Newcomer Welcome Centre that he got in contact with English Online (EO). The facilitators told him about the flexible English language training carried out through Skype and arranged for him to register.

At first, Oleksandr tried out the Group Study sessions. “Aside from English, I also Iearned how to write a resume, cover letter, official and non-official email, and prepare for an interview. EO also taught me how to make presentations using Powerpoint,” Oleksandr related. More importantly, learning about workplace communications widened his perspective at work. “Because of what I learned at EO, I could now relate to colleagues better and now understand what the management expects from me,” he said.

After the Group sessions, Oleksandr was paired up with an EAL e-tutor so he could have one-on-one language training. “Compared to learning with a group, I liked that you could ask questions whenever you need to when you study with an e-tutor. You don’t want to draw a lot of attention to yourself, so sometimes, even when you have a question, you don’t raise it in a group session. Also my e-mentor, Lillian Bernard, who has Ukrainian background, helped me translate words and especially phrases from English to Ukrainian to understand their proper meaning , and explained the way to communicate well,” he said. With the flexible arrangement he had with the e-tutor, Oleksandr was able to make time for studying English in the evenings and even during the weekends.

Another challenge was getting his education and experience recognized. Oleksandr holds a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and before he left Ukraine, was a self-employed mechanical engineer. So when EO offered the services of a Career E-mentor, he readily accepted. “I could not believe that I could find somebody in my own field who would be willing to teach me and help me. Mercedes Hudson, my e-mentor, introduced me to the Certified Technicians and Technologists Association of Manitoba (CCTAM) and helped me get my educational credentials and experience assessed,” he said. Oleksandr has also taken some courses at the University of Winnipeg and will take an English test in January, all in preparation for the membership process to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists in Manitoba (APEGM).

Growing possibilities, growing family

“I am very thankful to English Online for all their help. I know that hard work will make newcomers succeed, but without the direction first, which EO gave me, I would not know how to start,” Oleksandr said. Now a believer in online learning, he urged his wife to register with EO too. “Learning with EO is the perfect arrangement for my wife who has to take care of our son and our new baby (a daughter). I suggested learning with an EAL e-tutor to her and so far she likes it and says that it is very effective for her,” he said.

Asked about tips he can share with other newcomers (aside from learning English before coming to Canada), Oleksandr generously said, “be prepared for winter”. For me, winter may not be a big deal because we experience this season at home, but I say this especially for those who are not used to it. The weather can be very difficult to adjust to,” he said.

“Also, always stay positive. Manitoba is a place of possibilities. So long as you are willing to work hard, you will succeed in Manitoba,” he ended with a smile.