Newcomer Stories

Newcomer Story: Nguyen Thi Hoang Dung (Dzung Nguyen)

Dzung Nguyen

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

A drastic shift

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t know that I had an accent”

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

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

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

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

“Be mentally and emotionally prepared”

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

Aside from this, she advices newcomers to:

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

Newcomer Story: Brhan Abrha

Brhan looking at the camera

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

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

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

Memories of Copenhagen, Denmark

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

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

English is harder than Danish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcomer Story: Gabriela Miranda Campero

Lady smiling and holding a maple leaf under her chin

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

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

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

From Guanajuato, Mexico to Gimli, Manitoba

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

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

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

Discovering settlement services

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

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

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

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

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

Manitoba is my home

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to newcomers:

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

Newcomer Story: Chokri

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

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

Francophones from Tunisia

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

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

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

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

Learning English online

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Manitoba and Manitobans

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

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

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

Newcomer Story: Alfredo Santa

Alfredo Santa“I think that the best thing about Canada is that you can start over and over again. You have a wide panorama here and the view is wide open. Don’t be discouraged if you are not in your field of expertise because maybe you can be valuable in another field and you don’t know that. Write your history in Canada again!”

These are inspiring words from Alfredo, our featured newcomer. Prior to the interview, I did a bit of research on him and learned about his professional achievements. Aside from his impressive work history in sales and engineering back in Colombia, Alfredo began his career in Canada in 2017 as the Business Development Manager for Latin America for UltraSpan Technologies Inc. (UltraSpan is a company founded in Winnipeg that provides products, equipment and technology to precast producers all over the world). Then just last year, he moved up to the position of Business Development Manager for International Markets. Not a small feat for someone who has been here for only about two and half years. When I met him for an interview, I was eager to ask him about his success secrets. What I discovered is an inspiring story about overcoming challenges through a positive mindset and commitment to lifelong learning.

From Colombia to Calgary then Winnipeg

Alfredo’s immigration story actually did not begin in Winnipeg. They had family in Calgary, so together with his wife and three daughters, they moved there in 2016. Unfortunately, they arrived at the height of the recession. They had a difficult time looking for jobs. “We noticed that a lot of people were being laid off so although we had good education and professional experience, it was difficult for us to compete with English-speaking professionals with Canadian experience,” he said. After about 6-7 months of a rough job search, an opportunity opened up for Alfredo in Winnipeg, so they moved.

“To be honest, I didn’t know much about Manitoba but we took the chance because of the job. At first, it was rough for us because of the weather but something strange happened – we started to fall in love with the city and the people. They are very friendly, very open. We decided to stay and we’re enjoying it here now,” Alfredo said. He added “My wife and daughters have settled here and they’re doing great. Also, we got our very first house in Canada a month and a half ago. Considering that we have been here for a little over two years, it’s amazing! I think Manitoba has very good conditions to settle and to get a very decent job here.”

“The good thing about this program in MB is that you can learn English while you’re working. You can practice your English at work in the day and then at night you can learn grammar or other language skills. In my case, my work demands that I travel abroad. Even then, I can still work on my English lessons and study. It has a certain level of flexibility and I think that’s the great advantage of this program.”

Professional opportunities and the language barrier

Just like other newcomers, one of Alfredo’s first challenges was the language. Back in Calgary, he started with a LINC Program at Maple Leaf Academy. “First, you have to know the language for them to believe you (that you can do the job). The only way to do that is to be able to communicate your ideas in English. To be honest, I think I’m very lucky because my job is to cover Latin American markets, something that I did in the past and I still speak Spanish when I go there. This gave me a chance to have a professional job very fast and without getting licensing for my studies. So in a certain way my path was very short compared to other people who first needed to learn English or validate their studies,” Alfredo said. However, he realized that he needed to continue improving his English if he wanted to expand the markets that he can cover. So when he came to Winnipeg, he continued LINC with English Online.

“The good thing about this program in MB is that you can learn English while you’re working. You can practice your English at work in the day and then at night you can learn grammar or other language skills. In my case, my work demands that I travel abroad. Even then, I can still work on my English lessons and study. It has a certain level of flexibility and I think that’s the great advantage of this program,” Alfredo said.

“My instructor Karen is an expert in Canadian English and that’s very valuable. You’re learning ways to say the things here in Canada; you learn proper pronunciation. There are also a lot of topics that are relevant for us on the platform. For example, how to buy a house here in Canada, or how to volunteer, or how to apply for a job. The platform also has idioms that are used here. At first, you might not get them. But as soon as you hear a person mention one, something clicks in your mind and you say, ‘hey, I learned that idiom from the platform! Now I know in what context to use it,’” he adds.

Alfredo has been with LINC since 2017 and by the end of the year, he will be ready to take the exit test. He is looking to get CLB 8 in all the four skills, which is the maximum level for a LINC student. As early as now, he is already planning on taking other language courses to sustain the momentum. “I’m trying to get a pronunciation course or some communication coaching. I’m also thinking of joining the local Toastmasters Club,” he said.

Aside from this, Alfredo has not lost sight of getting his degree recognized in Canada and then continue studying something entirely different from engineering. “I think that the good thing about Canada is that you can start over and over again in different fields. Maybe I can study history, or something absolutely different that is not about numbers or engineering,” he said.

Tips to newcomers:

Alfredo shares his secrets for success for other newcomers:

  1. Don’t limit yourself. “We are all very capable. Please do not diminish yourself thinking that ‘ah I don’t speak English I’m not very valuable.’ I don’t think so. We need to have self-confidence and know that we can do it. It will take time to learn the language but you definitely can do it. This is something you need to overcome in your head and say ‘ok, maybe my English is not 100% accurate or my pronunciation is not the best, but it doesn’t matter’. What matters is that I can convey my ideas and express myself. Work on improving your language but realize that Canada is a wide open country for immigrants. People are friendly and open. They will give you a chance. It’s up to you to launch yourself, to shoot with whatever you have.”
  2. Get involved in the culture. “Listen to music, go to concerts, listen to the news, read books – try to enjoy that because it’s part of the experience. Try to get friends from here. Talk to people. Share your culture with them. That will give you the chance to express yourself and at the same time share who you are. For instance in my case, everybody asks the same kind of question (something related to cocaine). I know that it is very discouraging to talk about it but this is the chance to say ‘you know what, Colombia is not that, Colombia is this and this. It is very interesting!’ And people will value that. They will tell you ‘oh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that’. Maybe you can convert that person into your friend and even travel together to Colombia.”

    “Language is a barrier for sure. But more than the language is the way you handle it – for example how to express your ideas in a polite way. I come from a Latin American culture and we have a different way of expressing ourselves. You will notice that some people from my culture look like they are fighting but they’re really just talking, they’re exchanging ideas. People here are calmer. They get their point across by being eloquent not by arguing. If the point is related to some rules, ok, those are the rules and there is no point in questioning them. In my country, that doesn’t work. So you need to change your mindset and you need to understand the culture.”

  3. Start again. “This country is giving you a chance to start again, to do anything you want to do. So don’t be stuck with the idea that ‘I am an engineer and so I have to be an engineer.’ Think out of the box. If you’re an engineer, maybe you can open a company here, or maybe recruit people in engineering. Canada is a good country to start over again. Learn English, start a new profession or pursue different goals. In my country Colombia, this is not easy to do because it’s not easy to change your career. If you study engineering and you become an engineer, you’re going to be an engineer forever. Here in Canada, they will give you the chance to change your path.”

Newcomer Story: Raimner Heredia Valle

Raimner Heredia ValleRaimner was on a short break when he spoke to me on Skype. He was on a tight schedule – studying in the morning at Robertson College and then going to work in the afternoon, with most of his free time spent on classes with English Online. I had 30 minutes to speak to him before he leaves for work.

It is plain to see that Raimner is driven. He was at the top of his career as a software engineer back in Cuba when his family got the opportunity to immigrate. Having been part of the generation that lived through Cuba’s “Special Period” (this was around 1989 to 1991 when Cuba was hit with economic and political crises that led to food shortages and lack of basic commodities) he and his wife were determined to give their daughter a better future. “It was a hard time in our country, I remember that basic things were lacking. People were riding bikes every day to go their jobs. I put up with these years and although it started to get better around 1994, I don’t want her to experience what I had gone through. That was the main point to come,” he said.

A series of fortunate events

Raimner and his family arrived in Manitoba in 2016. They considered a lot of options prior to moving to Canada with places like Toronto, Quebec and Saskatchewan on their list. Raimner spoke to a lady who told them that there were fewer applicants to Manitoba, so they did.

Upon arriving, Raimner quickly learned that English was a necessity. “I had no English when I arrived. My wife had pretty good English so she was the one who started looking for a job and going through everything like going to Manitoba Start,” he said.

Eventually, Raimner did go to Manitoba Start and WELARC and was referred to MITT (Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology) where he started taking English classes. Then he started looking for jobs. Raimner looks back on this experience as one of his hardest challenges. “A lot of people were saying that there were lots of jobs to do but it was hard when you don’t have experience. They ask you for experience but because you’re new you don’t have experience – it’s kind of being trapped in a bubble that you don’t know how to get out of,” he said. Luckily, Raimner met a person who ran a renovation business. “He gave me an opportunity and I am so thankful to him. I was working within two years and it was so special for me. He hired me, taught me English and how to do renovations. I feel blessed because this guy appeared in my life out of nowhere,” Raimner said.

Meanwhile, he continued to persevere with his English studies. He was with MITT until it stopped their program for learners with benchmarks above 4. He then enrolled at the University of Manitoba’s paid programs in the evenings. It was through his wife that Raimner discovered English Online. “She told me, start with English Online. First, they gave me e-Tutor Sonya from Calgary. She was so good. I studied with her for a month and it was such a good experience. Then I applied to LINC Home Study. I have my instructor Jill right now and she’s amazing!” he said.

“In my opinion, learning English using EO is one of the most indispensable tools that we have to achieve our goals and establish ourselves in the Canadian society. I think EO is really good. I truly recommend EO because it’s fantastic – the flexibility that they provide you, the good teachers that they have. It’s a very good option so I truly recommend to everyone.”

Learning with English Online

“Before, I took some Coffee Chats with Blaine (amazing guy!) and also with Yuliana. I enjoyed the Coffee Chats but I felt like there was not enough feedback for me. So I applied to LINC,” Raimner said. He was paired with LINC Home Study instructor Jill Hart in January 2018.

“I can say a lot of things about Jill but the thing that I love about her is that she doesn’t hesitate to say that you are doing something wrong. She tells me what I need to improve on. She sends me videos and gives me exercises and then checks a lot of things – that’s what I love. I don’t get angry because that’s the way you learn. At first you do things wrong and then someone tells you that this is the right way to do it and then you learn from it, he said.

Raimner adds: “Aside from this, I like studying with EO because it is very flexible. Right now I’m under pressure because I have to go to school in the morning and work in the afternoon. Sometimes I call Jill and I say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t have a class today’. In her lovely manner she would say ‘it’s ok, let’s reschedule for another day’. That’s what I like, it’s so flexible. You can have your class after work or whenever you have time to do it,” he said.

“In my opinion, learning English using EO is one of the most indispensable tools that we have to achieve our goals and establish ourselves in the Canadian society. I think EO is really good. I truly recommend EO because it’s fantastic – the flexibility that they provide you, the good teachers that they have. It’s a very good option so I truly recommend to everyone,” he said.

Busy but loving it

Life may be hectic for Raimner right now but the future looks bright for him and his family. “I have been improving my English – things are going slowly but surely. I’m looking to establish a career as a Network System Administrator and I’m really on it. I want to be working in an office like I used to in Cuba and providing all the knowledge that I have,” Raimner said.

Soon he will be embarking on another important milestone in his settlement journey. “I am working hard not only for my family but also to have a better society and improve our country, Canada. I have already applied for Canadian citizenship which is another step. A lot of things are going on in my life but I am happy. I like being busy like this,” he said.

Raimner continues: “Since birth, we have faced challenges all the time. First, we learn how to walk and at first it’s hard. Then we move on and try to learn how to ride a bike or how to speak, and later on maybe to fall in love. All of these are challenges and we go through the process of learning. I think immigration to Canada is just like one of these challenges in life. So I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the teachers that I had – Yuliana, Sonya, Blaine and especially to Jill. EO is a great tool, it gives you all the resources and the information to be ready for this challenge.”