Newcomer Stories

Newcomer Story: Landiarisoa Razafindranaivo

Landiarisoa Razafindranaivo

Hooray for our August Language Contest Grand Winner, Landiarisoa Razafindranaivo! Landy has won several times in the past weeks, winning almost all of English Online’s (EO) collectibles. It’s a good thing that her daughter loves the items too. Landy shares that some of her prizes have disappeared from her desk and have mysteriously found their way into her daughter’s school bag!

Lady from the Big Red Island

After noticing that I was having trouble pronouncing her name, she said, “you can call me Landy because my name is very long.” I learned that “Landiarisoa” means good silk because in Malagasy, the native language of Madagascar, “landy” means silk, and “soa” means good. Quite the perfect name for the lady who just smoothly glided through our quizzes and won so many of them.

Landy and her family arrived in Manitoba in June, 2018. They purposely chose to go to rural Manitoba and promptly fell in love with Steinbach during their exploratory visit there. “We don’t like living in a big city. Manitoba is friendly especially if you live in a small town. They’re really friendly here in Steinbach,” Landy said.

Just like other newcomers, she and her family had to adjust to three things: the language, climate, and employment. However, Landy accepts that these challenges are part of being a newcomer. “You have to understand that it’s a new country, so there will be challenges. You have to be prepared,” she said. In the three years she has lived in Manitoba, she has managed to overcome these challenges with a mixture of hard work and the support of newcomer organizations.

Facing challenges head on

“In Madagascar, there are only two seasons: dry and cold. But the coldest is only around 10 degrees Celsius, not minus,” she said. “My kids love the snow, but for me it’s very hard. Driving is snow is not very comfortable,” she added.

It’s a good thing that they connected with Eastman Immigrant Services when they arrived. “Eastman referred us to an organization that gives some winter clothes and furniture to newcomers. As newcomers we didn’t have jobs yet so we didn’t have much money. So aside from the clothes from the organization, we also bought some from a thrift shop,” Landy said.

She also went to an organization called Opening Doors to Success which, aside from providing employment skills and enhancement trainings, also offered driving lessons as an incentive. “If you attend 85% of the workshops, you can have 18 hours of driving lessons,” she said. These proved useful as she passed the driving test on her first try.

Eastman also referred Landy to Red River College (RRC) for English language lessons. While she already knows French (the official language for education and business in Madagascar is French), she also wants to be proficient in English. Landy shared that manual dexterity is a problem for her, so an office job would be ideal. For this to happen, she needs to be able to communicate in English.

English training for self-motivated learners

Aside from receiving lessons at RRC, Landy was also volunteering at a thrift shop. Then, after a few months, she got a job as a French language mentor. “My job is similar to a teacher but I’m not a teacher. I give some activities to the students to make them speak French. The activities are games, songs, and crossword puzzles but not lesson and homework. I work with little groups of up to 10 students and give some activities or games,” she said.

As Landy’s schedule got busier, she found it harder to travel to RRC for her classes. That’s when the wonderful staff at Accueil Francophone told her about LINC Home Study at EO. LINC HS allowed Landy to learn English online with a TESL-accredited instructor.

“I like it because I don’t have to spend a lot of time (no need to drive). My teacher, Tanveen is so nice and she is also flexible. I like that there is more speaking during the meeting and she gives me homework,” Landy said. Tanveen also encouraged me to join the Language Contest,” she added. Aside from joining the contest to apply what she learned during the week, Landy was also able to attend Coffee Chats and other online drop-in classes with EO during the summer break.

“I recommend learning with English Online to newcomers but not to a lazy person,” Landy said. “You have to be motivated to learn English online because the time is not enough that you are in contact with your teacher. So you have to do your homework, read some text, do some research. You have to be on time too. I recommend it if someone is ready to do it. Because without motivation, you will not succeed. You have to push yourself,” she added.

Landy is really motivated to work hard on her English also because she wants to go back to bookkeeping. Back in Madagascar, her job was considered to be on the same level as an accountant. So right now, she is taking it step-by-step by starting with H&R Block’s Tax Academy Courses so that she could train to be a tax preparer.

Loving life in MB

“Whenever someone asks me if they should move to Canada, I always say come to Manitoba, especially for French speakers. You and your kids can become bilingual, and you have a better opportunity of getting a good job when you’re bilingual. Also, living here is not as expensive compared to other provinces,” Landy said.

She continues, “in Manitoba, you have the opportunity to have Rent Assist too. If your salary is not very high, the government helps you. There is the health card, child benefit, you can learn English . . . what more can you ask for?”

However, she also balances this advice with words of caution: “If you want to immigrate, it is a dream but you can realize your dream. You have to prepare because Canada is another country. It is not the same as your home country. You have to prepare because it is a new life. You have to cope with a lot of things and if you’re a non-English speaker, the language too. You have to learn English and you must be motivated,” she said.

Newcomer Story: Mithula Raveendran

Mithula Raveendran

We are proud to feature the first graduate of our revitalized e-Volunteer program, Mithula Raveendran.

Mithula was paired with a Settlement Coach and received 20 hours of coaching which was undertaken in a span of 10 weeks. She was mentored on various settlement concerns, particularly on establishing a new career in Manitoba, which is her priority. It’s worth noting that Mithula went through the program while enrolled in LINC Home Study with English Online (EO). The program’s flexible schedule allowed her to continue honing her English language skills while learning about her life and career options.

A new life in Winnipeg

Mithula arrived in Manitoba in April 2020 to join her husband who was already living in Winnipeg. She relates that they got married two years ago in their home country, Sri Lanka, exactly a day before COVID-19 started.

COVID-19 would continue to be a shadow over her settlement journey during her first few months upon arriving here. Pandemic restrictions meant that she couldn’t go anywhere, much less attend the usual orientation courses most newcomers start with. She couldn’t even visit the Hindu temple near their place as most establishments that hold indoor group gatherings were closed at that time. She spent her days mostly at home handling household chores.

After about six months, Mithula got a job and started working at a local 7/11 convenience store. This widened her exposure, but she was still cautious since the pandemic isn’t over yet. Then, after a few months, she got pregnant. She gave birth to their first child in August last year.

“Before, I did not speak proper English. Now my speaking skills have improved a little bit with help from her (referring to her LINC instructor, Ruxandra). She was very helpful in improving my English knowledge. I got CLB benchmark 4 then I joined LINC. It became CLB 5.”

Making up for lost time

Prior to giving birth, Mithula had already been attending language classes at Manitoba Start. She loved the classes there, but now that she has a newborn baby to take care of, she couldn’t attend anymore. It’s a good thing that the kind folks at Manitoba Start referred her to EO. Mithula signed up for LINC Home Study at EO which allowed her to receive online language training with a TESL-accredited instructor in the comfort of her home.

“Before, I did not speak proper English. Now my speaking skills have improved a little bit with help from her,” Mithula said, referring to her LINC instructor, Ruxandra. “She was very helpful in improving my English knowledge. I got CLB benchmark 4 then I joined LINC. It became CLB 5,” Mithula added.

Later on, she learned about the e-volunteer Program at EO and thought that it would be a good opportunity to catch up on her settlement orientation. Upon signing up, she was paired with one of EO’s most dynamic volunteers, Ellen Min Chen, who is also an EO learner (read her article here).

“Mithula was a bit apprehensive the first time we met. But later on, she took a keen interest in everything we talked about,” Ellen said. “She asked specific questions about researching employment opportunities. She also asked about government assistance, and programs she could apply to that were less costly,” she said.

“As we continued our sessions, Mithula was happy, relaxed and more confident than when we started. I found her very receptive,” Ellen added.

Mithula is equally as excited about her experience. “Ellen explained many things about Canadian culture. She also taught me how to make a LinkedIn bio, and how to apply for courses and jobs. I learned a lot from Ellen,” Mithula said.

To celebrate the end of their coaching sessions, the two met in person for bubble tea. However, it looks like they are sustaining the relationship and continuing to communicate. Ellen recently informed us that Mithula invited her to her son’s first birthday party. “I met some of her family and tried traditional Sri Lankan food,” Ellen said.

Future plans

Mithula celebrated another milestone recently which she was excited to share. Her latest language assessment showed that she has reached CLB 6. Aside from indicating that her English proficiency is continually improving, it also meant that she is now qualified to enroll in a Health Care Aide course.

Before coming Canada, Mithula worked as an accountant for a finance company in Sri Lanka. But since her occupation is regulated here, she knows that the journey towards achieving her CPA designation would take a considerable amount of time, money and effort, so she decided to shift to health care.

Needless to say, it’s a major shift, so it’s a good thing that Ellen was also able to coach her through the process. She helped Mithula weigh her options and decide where to enroll. “Ellen was very helpful. We talked about which college is better, and about cost,” Mithula said.

But while she’s making a practical choice, Mithula is not giving up on accountancy. “Maybe in four to five years, I will get my accounting certificate,” she said.

Until then, Mithula continues to work on improving her English and getting ready for a new career path. Slowly but surely, she is growing and thriving because of her hard work and with the help of a growing circle of supportive connections in her new home.

Newcomer Story: Mariela Camero

Double hooray for our June Language Contest Grand Winner, Mariela Camero!!

Double, because aside from her language contest win, we’re also celebrating her CLB promotion. Just before this interview, Mariela took her assessment test with her teacher Tanveen and the results showed that she’s moved up another notch in her CLB level. This is a stellar achievement considering that she started learning English only six months ago.

Like most of our successful learners, Mariela is quite diligent in her studies despite having a full time job. Aside from having a one-on-one instructor in the LINC Home Study program, she also attends our informal drop-in classes and joins the language quizzes whenever she has time.

From Venezuela by way of Ecuador and Uruguay

Mariela came to Manitoba to join her husband in July 2021, but moving to a new country is not new to her. In 2016, she and her family left their native country Venezuela due to the economic and political upheaval there. They moved to a neighbouring country, Ecuador, lived there for two years, and then moved again to Uruguay.

However, Mariela says that moving to an entirely new continent is harder. Like other newcomers, she had to adjust (and is still adjusting) to a new language, weather, and culture. “I’ve never been to Canada before, so everything was difficult,” Mariela said. She remembers, “I was even afraid to cross the street because it seemed so big to me. I was also afraid to get on the bus and get lost.”

Another concern was the language. Even though she learned some English back in her home country, she never practiced speaking because everyone around her spoke Spanish. “The first time I went to the Canadian supermarket alone, I could not understand anything the cashier was asking me. I got so frustrated that I left the store crying. I really wanted to go back home, everything seemed difficult here. I was also so afraid to start working. I was terrified of the idea of working and not being able to understand anything they said to me. I was feeling so alone, not having friends or anyone to have coffee with and talk about my experience. It was hard,” Mariela said.

And then shortly after she came here, she received news that her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. “This was another hard moment for me. I wanted so much to go return home and be a support for my family. At the same time, I was experiencing my own challenges here. This certainly made my transition more difficult,” she said.

“Since I received my first class, I was very happy and excited to be studying formally. For me, it has been incredible help, in each class I learn something. I try to attend as many classes as possible, because any time when you’re in class, you learn something. My vocabulary, my pronunciation have improved a lot.”

Grit and positivity

It’s tough facing all these challenges but it turns out, Mariela is tougher.

Instead of focusing on her fears and problems, she resolved to improve her English and find work. She went to the Immigrant Centre where the good folks there assisted Mariela in her job search and referred her to English Online for language training.

Mariela remembers the first time she attended an online class with fondness: “When I attended my first class in the program, everybody spoke English and I thought, wow, this is going to be hard. At first I thought it would be explained in my own language and I discovered, no, it’s not like that, it is English everything! But how the teacher handled the classroom matters. I remember my teacher (Blaine), he introduced me to the class and said ‘Welcome, Mariela, I speak a little Spanish too. Actually my wife is from Mexico.’ This is a good memory for me, he made my day happy,” Mariela said. She adds, “Blaine is a very passionate teacher. He handles the classroom well. He always tries to understand what everyone says, even if it’s good or not, or even when the pronunciation is not very good.”

“Since I received my first class, I was very happy and excited to be studying formally. For me, it has been incredible help, in each class I learn something. I try to attend as many classes as possible, because any time when you’re in class, you learn something. My vocabulary, my pronunciation have improved a lot,” Mariela said.

Aside from improving her English, she says she has also developed focus and concentration. “I know that I need to give 100% concentration in my class because it’s easy to be distracted when you have your phone or when you’re in the house. There are distractions like if you have kids, or if you need to start cooking…everything can be a distraction for you,” she said.

Learning and growing

Prior to moving to Manitoba, Mariela was working as a Beauty Advisor for L’Oreal in Uruguay. Now she is working as a caregiver, a job where her positivity and service orientation skills make her shine. “I really like my job, I enjoy helping another person. This client is just very special for me,” Mariela said. “My client also allows me to take classes just as long I have everything ready for her,” she added.

With everything improving on all fronts, Mariela is starting to appreciate her life in Manitoba. “I think Manitoba is a small province that has many benefits. For example, being able to be in in this online English program that is only for Manitobans is a great help for me,” Mariela said.

Another great news is that her sister back in Uruguay is better after receiving treatment. This is a big weight off her shoulders and something that she is extremely grateful for.

Mariela’s story is a good reminder that focusing on opportunities and working on things we can change works better than dwelling on difficulties. A little over a year into her settlement journey, she is thriving and inspiring others with her positivity and hard work. Congratulations, Mariela!

Newcomer Story: Anne Sonie Joseph Noel

Three cheers for our Language Contest April Grand Winner, Anne Sonie Joseph Noel!!! We are shining the spotlight on her in our Newcomer Stories this month.

We couldn’t be any prouder of Anne Sonie, who is one of English Online’s (EO) most active learners. Besides attending LINC Home Study sessions with a one-on-one instructor, she also participates in various drop-in group sessions throughout the week. Aside from this, she joins the Language Contest every Friday to practice what she learned in her classes.

“Every day I learn in three or four classes, so the contest provided a space to get involved. It’s an opportunity to do my best. I actually failed the third week and I was very angry with myself! I knew the answer but made a very bad mistake. When I wrote the answer, I used “in” instead of “on” and because of that I didn’t win that week. But I kept trying,” Anne Sonie said.

Because of her perseverance, she garnered the most number of correct answers by the end of the month which earned for her the much deserved title of Grand Winner.

“It was cold but I felt their warm welcome”

Our diligent student arrived at the end of December 2021 in Manitoba. Anne Sonie, her husband, 10-year old son, plus a baby on the way, landed in Winnipeg at the height of winter. Despite being prepared and warmly-dressed, actually feeling -30 °C for the first time was a whole new experience for them. Haiti, their home country, has tropical weather all year round. “It was shocking. It was difficult for me to open my eyes because of the wind and cold outside,” Anne Sonie said.

After the initial shock, what made up for the cold were friendly Haitian families and Manitobans. “Even though we arrived here in winter and it was really cold, the people we met gave us a warm welcome which is good. The family who came and picked us up was so kind and accommodating. They made sure that we were comfortable. I like this heat that emerges from their kindness, Anne Sonie said.

Francophones in MB

Aside from the weather, another thing that was a departure from her expectations was the language. “We were told that Manitoba is a province where French and English were spoken so it would be easy for Francophones when they come here, she said. This was great news for Anne Sonie and her family since French and Creole are the official languages of Haiti. However, while she did find some French services as well as a French school for her son in Winnipeg, she learned that English is still a necessity as most people speak it here.

“When I gave birth to my baby at the women’s hospital, I couldn’t find a French-speaker right away . My husband and I put aside the fear of making mistakes in English and put our words together to make ourselves understood. You have to ask if there are French services or if somebody can speak French with you. If not, you must try,” Anne Sonie said. “I realized that I still needed to learn English to connect with others. Also, if you don’t have enough English, you can’t get work. My husband failed a lot of interviews because of English. It’s a disadvantage, I can say. We have to speak English to adapt faster,” she added.

“This is why I would recommend EO to other newcomers. We not only learn English, but it’s a package. We learn a lot about our host country, about other nationalities, other cultures and how to live with them. This is important because we are living in a multicultural place.”

“English is a language I dream of”

Anne Sonie took a language test at WELARC after giving birth to their second child so she could learn English right away. WELARC referred her to LINC Home Study which allowed her to take classes online while taking care of her baby.

“After I registered, I learned that LINC Home Study is under the umbrella of English Online. I saw that I could also attend Coffee Chats, Multi Week Workshops, and the Citizenship Class. I love that class! I learned about the political system of Canada,” she said.

“This is why I would recommend EO to other newcomers. We not only learn English, but it’s a package. We learn a lot about our host country, about other nationalities, other cultures and how to live with them. This is important because we are living in a multicultural place,” she added.

Another thing she likes about EO are the teachers. ”I like the kindness of the teachers and their ability to create a favourable atmosphere in order to learn and give the best of one’s self. They’re all very nice. They give you confidence to speak. Even if you make mistakes, you’ll learn. They don’t judge you. And if you ask them a question that they do not know the answer to, they will look for it and come back to you afterwards. It’s a good attitude since nobody has all the answers,” she added.

Being such a motivated learner, it’s not surprising that her English proficiency improved in a short span of time. During the interview, I remarked that she speaks English very well. Anne Sonie smiled and said “Most of my teachers say that too. They say that I express myself clearly. This feedback helps me to move forward, I appreciate it. English is a language I dream of, I really want to speak it.”

Future plans

“Now I’m taking care of my daughter who is only four months old. But I want to study and get a job in order to integrate into the community. I could go back to banking but I’m thinking about shifting to the healthcare field,” she said. Prior to moving to Canada, Anne Sonie had been working at Unibank S.A. for almost six years. She holds a degree in Economics (Diplôme en Sciences économiques) as well as a degree in American Accounting and Business Mathematics.

In the meantime, she continues to improve her English to be ready to explore her future prospects. She’ll need a higher CLB to go back to school. “At the University of St. Boniface, they recommend that we have to have level 7 CLB to take up a course like Nursing. It’s a project. It’s on my mind,” she said.

Aside from studies and career, she is also looking forward to exploring her new home. “I don’t know the country very well yet because it’s not easy for me to go out,” she said. With warmer weather finally coming, she is planning on going out more and discovering Canada’s natural beauty.

To all newcomers, this is Anne Sonie’s advice: “Learn English before coming because it’s really important to make yourself understood. Try to build your network even while in your native country. It’s a very important thing. When you’re new in a country and you don’t know anybody, it will be very hard for you. Keep an open mind and don’t be shy to ask for help if needed.”

She adds, “We have a saying in Creole that goes ‘Bwa pi wo di li wè lwen, men grenn pwomennen di li wè pi lwen pase l,’ it means exploring the world gives us more possibilities than staying where we are. I hope that newcomers to Manitoba like me will see this journey as an adventure. It’s important not to feel discouraged by obstacles but to be motivated by the opportunities we see in front of us.”

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.”

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.