Newcomer Stories

Newcomer Story: Firouzeh Azhdari-Nassab

Firouzeh smiling

For busy mom and sales professional, Firouzeh, finding time to study English was a problem. When she registered with English Online, she discovered that taking charge of her own learning path was necessary to succeed in building her English skills with her limited time. By doing so, she has gained renewed energy and confidence in her journey toward integration.

Firouzeh has always been interested in English, even as a student. She laments the fact that formal English instruction in Tehran, Iran didn’t start until junior high school unless you studied at a private school. At university, she thought about taking up English or Nursing and qualified for both. She chose a Nursing career but still continued learning English any way she could, even communicating with her son’s English teacher later on to improve her skills. When she moved to Canada, Firouzeh could converse in English but found it difficult to read and write.

Taking care of business

Learning English had to take a backseat when Firouzeh and her family arrived in Manitoba in 2012. The young family moved mainly for the benefit of their two young children. They also set up a business in Winnipeg, a store selling European shoes. Firouzeh became busy with sales and taking care of her family, so the English courses had to wait. After three years, they decided to sell the business and Firouzeh’s husband went back to Iran to explore new business opportunities. Meanwhile, Firouzeh took a job at a high-end furniture shop where she became involved again in sales. It took about a year and a half before she could finally find time to get back to studying. She saw English Online (EO) on a WELARC handout and decided to give online learning a try.

“I want to add that the one-on-one class gave me the confidence to volunteer. After a month of studying, I felt that I had the energy and was ready to contribute something,” she added. “I accomplished a CPR course, got a certificate, and applied for a child abuse registry check. They were all in English and I did it on my own”

Getting lost online and finding her learning style

Firouzeh’s first few weeks with EO were rough. She felt lost online. She was also insecure about her computer skills. It was a good thing that she decided to email Margarita, EO’s Lead e-Facilitator and LINC Home Study Coordinator, about her predicament. Margarita wrote back outlining the many activities she can start with and the pathways she could take based on her learning goals. “I followed Margarita’s advice. I did everything she said. And it helped me learn,” Firouzeh said.

She started participating in Virtual Coffee Chats and drop-in workshops. She also enrolled in the LINC Home Study Program early this year. “I found the right combination in studying LINC with Blaine and attending Coffee Chats with Yuliana. With Blaine, it is one-on-one learning. It really amazes me that he understands every newcomer’s accent. He always manages to encourage each student by recognizing their efforts, motivating us to work harder and increase participation.

“I also attend group chats. I always ask Yuliana about grammar rules. She is an expert at that. She also tells us about other resources and programs, like Lunch & Learn, that could improve our grammar. She is so helpful,” Firouzeh said.

“I have fun attending the Coffee Chats because I meet a lot of people who are determined to learn English. We have fun, share jokes with each other and it is okay. It’s not so serious, and I have fun while learning. It is a comfortable environment. I don’t know why, but maybe that’s the magic of the virtual classroom. Or maybe because, aside from our great teachers Yuliana and Blaine, many people work behind the scenes to make it a good learning environment” she added.

Better English = more achievements

Today, Firouzeh is one of English Online’s most active learners. According to her mentors, her English skills (as well as her digital skills) have had tremendous improvement in just a few months’ time. “Now I could see how far I have come when I compare my writing and my reading comprehension,” Firouzeh said.

“I want to add that the one-on-one class gave me the confidence to volunteer. After a month of studying, I felt that I had the energy and was ready to contribute something,” she added. “I accomplished a CPR course, got a certificate, and applied for a child abuse registry check. They were all in English and I did it on my own,” Firouzeh said proudly. She now does volunteer work as a teacher’s assistant which she enjoys. Recently, she added another feather to her cap when she aced her Canadian Citizenship test. “I think that it is very important to be patient and to keep going. Don’t stop practicing English,” she said.

Never stop learning

Because of her experience at EO, Firouzeh is now a staunch promoter. She finds every opportunity to share with other newcomers how EO has helped her. She tells them to go to and take advantage of the many online learning resources. “For newcomers (for everybody really), it’s important to keep learning, not only for integration but also for mental health. Continuous learning (English and other topics besides) will prevent you from getting Alzheimer’s,” Firouzeh said.

Another thing Firouzeh advises new Manitobans to do is to volunteer. “Volunteering is really important. It gives you experience, you learn new skills, gain new friends, and improve your English,” she said.

With the continued improvement of her English skills, Firouzeh knows that more opportunities will open up for her. “I can’t go back to nursing yet, but I see the possibility of getting a related job in healthcare in the near future,” she said. To newcomers like her, Firouzeh has this advice: “Just work hard, be patient, keep learning and never stop.”

Newcomer story: Grace Eun Jung Yang

Coming to Winnipeg was the break Grace needed. The life she led in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, was fast-paced and fiercely competitive. Despite having a successful dental practice, Dr. Grace Yang found that the dense population made living there highly stressful. After applying successfully to the MPNP for Business program, she and her family moved to Winnipeg in May last year.

Going for a fresh start

“I have three major reasons for moving to Canada. First, the air pollution is getting worse in Seoul. We had to wear masks whenever we went out. I was worried that it would cause health problems for us like lung cancer, dementia, or allergies. Second, we moved for our son’s education. I know that he will have a good education here. And third, I needed to take a rest,” Grace said.

Grace relates that the workload was heavy, not only for her and her husband, but for their young son as well. It was not uncommon for young students in Seoul to come home from school and then go to a private academy for more classes. This worried Grace as she saw that depression because of poor grades was becoming common. Some kids even commit suicide due to the pressure. Wanting a more balanced life for their son, the couple made it a priority to seek a better environment. Today, they are thankful that their 12 year old has adjusted to school life in Winnipeg. They are seeing to it that he has enough time for play and recreation besides school work.

“Sometimes when I speak English, I’m really afraid of making a mistake. I think that is why many of us are reluctant to speak English. But my tip is not be afraid of mistakes. It’s natural to make a mistake because we were not born Canadians. Just keep learning.”

Optimism, positivity continuous learning and a dash of preparedness

Despite her original plan to relax for a bit, Grace started to work two months after landing in Winnipeg. Currently working full time as an associate dentist, she came to Winnipeg ready. A graduate of dentistry, holder of a master’s degree and a trained orthodontic specialist, Grace began her licensure process in her home country. She then took the required five exams in Canada and passed them all in one take. She is now enjoying her work which leaves time for other things. “The pace is totally different. I have a lot of time to spend with my family,” Grace said. Her schedule also gave her time to take courses with English Online. “I joined EO last April. I participated in Coffee Chats to improve my speaking ability. I also enrolled in the LINC Home Study Program in August,” Grace said. Although she says she has the opportunity to speak often at work, Grace still wants to improve her conversational English. “Even if I’m speaking English every day at my workplace, I only use professional language. I want to learn diverse expressions. When I joined the Coffee Chats, I was able to practice conversational English,” she said.

This is one habit that Grace wants newcomers to have – to always continue learning. “People are afraid of learning English, or of anything new. Sometimes when I speak English, I’m really afraid of making a mistake. I think that is why many of us are reluctant to speak English. But my tip is to not be afraid of mistakes. It’s natural to make a mistake because we were not born Canadians. Just keep learning,” Grace said.

A positive and optimistic person, Grace didn’t really feel that she had major challenges to speak of when they landed in Manitoba. “Many people were warning me that Winnipeg will be too cold. But for me, Winnipeg is not too cold and the people here are really nice,” Grace said. What she did find a bit challenging was the thought of starting her own business from scratch. Thinking of putting up her business without her usual support group can be a little daunting even if she had experience running her own dental clinic for more than 10 years in Seoul. “But I like challenges (and adventures), plus I always look on the bright side,” Grace said.

A great place to live in

Before she takes that big step, Grace and her family are enjoying the relaxed pace for now. One thing that she does long for from her home country is dining at her favorite Korean restaurants. “Even if we eat Korean dishes at home, I miss eating out. That is why I’m listing down all the food that I miss and make sure that I eat them all when I visit my country next year, Grace said, laughing.

In the meantime, the Yang family are also enjoying Manitoba’s natural beauty. “I think my family really likes Winnipeg. There are lots of beautiful lakes, it has a beautiful landscape, and we can see the Northern Lights. I actually saw it a couple of weeks ago from my house,” Grace said. “I also think it’s a good place for new immigrants to settle in compared to large cities. Winnipeg is a great place to live in and it has substantial opportunities for all,” she added.

Newcomer Story: Rediat Mikru

Rediat landed in Canada in June 2012 with big expectations. Coming to Manitoba via the Provincial Nominee Program, she felt fortunate to have been given the opportunity to emigrate from her home country Ethiopia. But despite her optimism, Rediat learned quickly that it takes more than big hopes to achieve one’s dreams.

Settlement challenges

First among Rediat’s challenges was the extreme weather. “I was not prepared to experience wind chill,” she said. “But now I have adapted to the weather. Little, by little, you can adapt,” Rediat added. She also had difficulty finding work at that time and a big factor was her limited knowledge of English. ”Before, I was not able to speak English like I do right now,” she said.

After a year in Manitoba, Rediat got sick. Her health problems prompted her to go back to Ethiopia to recuperate. After four months, Rediat decided to come back to Winnipeg and try again. It seemed that this was the reboot that she needed because when she returned, she was filled with renewed resolve. She enrolled in English classes at the University of Manitoba and looked for work at the same time. She also started volunteering at Siloam Mission. After a while, she started to accept cleaning jobs for some properties. Over and above all these activities, Rediat achieved a milestone in 2015 – she graduated from Grade 12 with top marks. Soon after, she registered at the University of Winnipeg to take up accounting.

“EO is helping me improve my grammar, reading, and practicing my writing. I am learning where I’m supposed to put a comma, the subject-verb agreement, plural form, all these things. Now I’m good.”

Remembering her English words

“My problem is that when I speak and write, my mind translates the words to my native language. I know the words. I have the vocabulary in my head. I understand everything when I read or when you talk to me. If you mention a word, I know what it means. But it’s hard to remember the English words,” Rediat said. She illustrates this difficulty by relating what she experienced during an exam: “I took an exam and studied very well. I aced the multiple choice questions. But when it came to the writing part, I was only able to express a little. It was not good,” Rediat recalls. “But I don’t give up! I continue to practice,” she adds.

This is why she likes learning with English Online (EO). “It reminds of what I have in my mind. Practicing with EO and in my English class makes me familiar with the words,” she said.

The spunky lady actually started learning with EO three years ago when she had heard about online learning at an EAL program. But because of her work schedule, she had to stop. When her schedule permitted it, she started again. Today she continues to participate in Coffee Chats. She also registered for a one-on-one EAL e-tutor. “EO is helping me improve my grammar, reading, and practicing my writing. I am learning where I’m supposed to put a comma, the subject-verb agreement, plural form, all these things. Now I’m good,” Rediat said.

Her commitment to learning English is very evident. Rediat is looking to make friends with a native speaker so that she can practice conversational English constantly. She also takes every opportunity to converse with people at Church or in her community.

Have realistic expectations

Currently, Rediat is looking to shift to a better career while earning her degree. She is looking for a job where she will have a greater chance to converse with co-workers so she can learn English faster. She foresees that this kind of environment will better equip her with the right skills to get her ready for her career in accounting. However, she laments that finding a job in Manitoba is hard. “I hope that more career opportunities will be opened to newcomers. Getting work is hard. When they do not have a job, they only speak their language and become dependent on the government to survive. But if they get a job, they will be able to develop themselves and their English while at work,” she said.

But despite this, Rediat still enjoys living in Winnipeg. “Living in Manitoba is good. I think the cost of living is good. As I have heard from other people, the cost of living in other provinces is very high. Like in Vancouver or Calgary, I hear that the rent is very expensive,” she added.

Asked for advice to other newcomers, Rediat has this to say: “Many newcomers are eager to come to Manitoba and their expectations are big. Just like me, when I came to Manitoba, I expected a lot. At that time, I believed that I could easily change everything. So my advice is not to expect too much. Have realistic expectations. They should be ready for change and plan for the changes. Be willing to start from scratch. Be ready to adapt to Canadian culture – learn English, the culture, everything!” Rediat said.

Newcomer Story: JH

I had a chance to speak to JH over Skype in a sort of an “ambush interview” after her LINC Home Study session with our e-facilitator Blaine Roberts. Despite the short notice, she graciously accepted my invitation for a short interview and shared with me her story (Thanks, JH!):

Unfazed by challenges

It has been her family’s aspiration to move to Canada. The young family from Israel wanted to immigrate for many reasons. Fortunately, they had the chance to visit Manitoba for a brief period. The family liked it here and decided to move. JH, her husband and two young kids arrived in Winnipeg in September 2016.

Just like any other immigrant family, they faced challenges when they first arrived in Manitoba. However, when asked about them, JH seemed unfazed. “As expected, just like many immigrants, communication using a foreign language can be difficult. I know English but like a tourist in Europe (laughs)! Also, the culture is very different. Actually, everything is different, so there were a lot of difficulties. But we knew what we were getting into. So we were ready,” JH said.

“Actually, the biggest challenge is that I have two kids. In Israel I had babysitters. Here, I have to take them with me everywhere, without help. I think it’s the biggest problem,” JH continued. With a toddler and a baby at home, JH found that she had to put her career and studies on hold. But despite this, her positive outlook shines through. “My oldest son is now in Kindergarten. He is in school, so I started to learn English. And then next year, he’s going to be in the first grade. So I know it’s temporary. It’s not going to be a problem forever. So I’m just waiting and enjoying my time,” JH said.

“Be patient because immigrating is hard. Be ready for difficulties but it will get better. It just takes time.”

Learning with English Online

JH learned about English Online from WELARC. She thought learning online was perfect for winter. Also, she didn’t have a driver’s license yet, so it was great for her. At first she didn’t know about LINC Home Study so she started studying English using online resources on Live and Learn until January. After this, she took the Manitoba Nurses Union’s course and finished Module 1. She is currently enrolled in LINC Home Study where she gets one-on-one English lessons online.

“I think learning with English Online is helping me. But I feel that I do not have so much self-discipline to sit and learn. So, I’m the problem! I would recommend it for people who can’t go outside and can’t find the time to study. It’s perfect for people who have self-discipline who want to sit and learn,” JH said.

Be patient

Both JH and her husband were full-time workers back in their home country. She worked as a registered nurse at a hospital in Israel. So naturally, she would want to go back to her career and practice nursing in Manitoba. With the process for registering requiring a lot of time and work, she knows that she could only do it little by little for now. However, she does have clear plans about her career path. In the meantime, JH continues to study English and enjoys Winnipeg’s peaceful and quiet atmosphere. Later on, she plans to take up more courses to build her career, and then perhaps pursue a job as a Health Care Aide at first.

JH’s best advice to newcomers: “Be patient because immigrating is hard. Be ready for difficulties but it will get better. It just takes time”, she said.

Newcomer story: Niyba Alizadeh

Niyba initially hesitated when I asked for an interview. With six kids to take care of, the stay-at-home mom did not really have time to spare for a chat. But despite her busy schedule, she was willing to share her experiences, especially knowing that it will benefit newcomers. So she agreed to be interviewed, but it had to be between 4:00 and a little bit past 5:00 pm. Her older kids return from school around this time and she would need to attend to them.

This tight schedule is what makes it hard for Niyba to go out and take formal English classes. Back in 2012 and 2014, she had enrolled in face to face English classes but had to quit both times because of pregnancy. So when she applied for Citizenship early this year, she was denied because she lacked the LINC/CLIC certificate that was required. The LINC/CLIC certificate must attest to a Canadian Language Benchmark 4 or higher. She consulted WELARC about her situation and they recommended English Online. Niyba is currently waitlisted for the LINC program but in the meantime, she attends English Online’s Coffee Chats so she can start honing her English language skills.

Her story: Love in the time of war

Fleeing war-torn Afghanistan was one of the most difficult things Niyba had to go through. First, she had to flee to Iran to avoid the Taliban attacks. This was actually a short-lived move since conflict in Iran was also escalating. However, while in Iran, Niyba met the man who would be her husband. They got married and decided to go back to Afghanistan hoping things have gotten better there. ”I decided to go back to my country hoping that the war would be over. But it was still not safe,” Niyba said. After the young couple had a child, they realized that it was now urgent to find a more stable place where their child can have a better future. So in 2007, the family fled to Pakistan.

While in Pakistan, the couple has two more kids. Meanwhile, Niyba’s mother, sisters and brother who have recently immigrated to Manitoba were now ready to sponsor her to come. It took a few years but on November 15, 2011, Niyba and her young family arrived in Winnipeg.

It’s never too late to achieve your dreams

Moving to Manitoba, Niyba and her family found the stability they desired. “I did not have a hard time adjusting to this country because of the support of my family,” she said. Upon arriving, Niyba and her family were welcomed with a place to live and assistance for all their immediate needs. “My brother did not go to work for a week just to show us how to get our SIN, go to the bank, and teach us other things,” she said.

The family settled into a comfortable life, with Niyba taking care of her growing family. She was able to take a few settlement and English courses early on, but when she had more kids it became evident that taking care of them had to be the priority. This is why Niyba found learning with English Online as a godsend. “I like studying with English Online because I don’t have to leave the house. I can go to a room while my older children watch the younger ones. I join Coffee Chats in the evenings when all my work around the house is done,” Niyba said. Aside from practicing her English skills, she is also happy that she is learning things about Manitoba to update her knowledge.

“I met people who set goals for the future. They planned their learning to achieve something. I think I can do it too.”

But more than these, the Coffee Chats have inspired her to have goals. Niyba was just a student when she left Afghanistan. And because of the constant move to various countries and the subsequent responsibilities of motherhood, she never got to finish her studies and pursue her dreams. “Before, I wanted to be a teacher, or maybe become a nurse. When I think about it now, I say it’s impossible because I’m too old to start and because of the kids,” she said. This view changed when she began to attend Coffee Chats. “I met people who set goals for the future. They planned their learning to achieve something. I think I can do it too,” Niyba said. She now resolves to take classes to earn an accounting or a nursing degree once her babies get a little bit older.

So today, Niyba is now learning to set goals and working to achieve them one step at a time. Her immediate target is to acquire her LINC certification, and then to earn her citizenship. But it will not stop there. There is enthusiasm in her voice when she said “when my kids get a little bit older, I plan to go back to school. Education is the key to success”.

Newcomer Story: Echo Duan

lady smiling“I’m the type of person who thinks of the worst possible scenario. What if I don’t get a job in three months? What if our money runs out? I worry about these things and plan for them. In my mind, I should be prepared for whatever happens. And when they do happen, we will be ready” Echo said.

What actually happened was the opposite. Echo hit the ground running upon arriving in Winnipeg in April last year. She immediately started volunteering. In fact, she held two volunteer jobs: one at an agency that provides English conversation practice and another at a family support centre as an office assistant. Her first paid job followed shortly. She was hired as an employment services advisor at an employment service agency. Currently, Echo works for Settlement Online Pre-Arrival (SOPA) as a Job Search Strategies Facilitator where her HR experience, particularly her knowledge about employers’ perspective, makes her a valuable ally for new Manitobans working to get their careers on track.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

A holder of a Bachelor of Laws degree from Jiangsu University, Echo found that she was more interested in developing people than practising law. Her first job as a corporate executive secretary led to an opportunity for a Human Resources post which allowed her to discover her passion for unleashing others’ potentials to reach their business and personal goals. Before she left, she was a Talent and Development Manager for Wrigley Confectionery in China where she was successful in building a talent pipeline and delivering leadership learning solutions for the organization.

Despite her flourishing career, Echo and her husband decided to emigrate. The young couple loved to travel and learn about different cultures. Immigrating under the Federal Skilled Worker category, they could have chosen to live anywhere in the country. But after studying and comparing several places, they thought that Winnipeg was the perfect place for them. After living in big, bustling cities in China, the couple saw Winnipeg’s small town feel as a welcome change for them.

“I was so inspired by the other learners I met during the chats. I could see their progress every time I meet them online. From knowing very little English, they improved with every session. It was very encouraging”

Aside from researching about Canadian cities, Echo started preparing for their journey to Winnipeg six months before their move. She began researching about the climate, cost of living, and the job market. She also attended Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) information sessions. During one of her online researches, she discovered English Online’s (EO) Live and Learn program and decided to register. She started joining Coffee Chats and drop-in workshops where she said she learned settlement information such as buying a home and about the public transportation system. Echo appreciated that during the Coffee Chats, she was able to connect with other Manitobans even before leaving her home country. “I was so inspired by the other learners I met during the chats. I could see their progress every time I meet them online. From knowing very little English, they improved with every session. It was very encouraging,” Echo said.

While studying with EO, Echo also took SOPA courses. These courses provided pre-employment guidance – from job search strategies to Canadian workplace integration. This is where she gained an understanding of the Canadian job market, learned about the “hidden market”, familiarized herself with Canadian workplace culture, and started to get her Canadian-style resume ready. Echo also started to build connections with the Human Resources Management Association of Manitoba and started looking for work even before she left with the help of SOPA. Little did she know that soon enough, she will be working for the program when she arrives in Winnipeg. She is actually the first SOPA graduate in Manitoba to work for the program. Now, it’s her turn to share all that she had learned with pre-arrivals to Manitoba.

Stay positive, persevere

Echo’s preparation entailed a lot of hard work, but evidently it paid off. Aside from having a job she enjoys, Echo and her husband are loving their life in Winnipeg. “It is everything we expected. We love the diversity and we’re enjoying Winnipeg’s multiculturalism. You see what’s written on those plate numbers? ‘Friendly Manitoba?’ I’m finding that to be true,” Echo said.

Aside from good preparation, Echo advises newcomers to:

  • Improve their language skills – this is one of the major areas for improvement especially if you come from a non-English speaking country. Having the right communication tools is the key to a successful career and integration.
  • Always stay positive – build enough emotional support for yourself. You will need it.
  • Persevere – when applying for jobs, keep trying. According to Echo, it is normal for 10 high quality resumes to yield one interview. But keep at it and your perseverance will pay off.
  • Be patient – if you have enough resources and you can afford wait, don’t settle for a job you don’t want. Be patient and continue applying for jobs that will utilize your knowledge, skills and interests.
  • Network – it is the best way to find and get a job in Manitoba.

Nine months and counting

Asked about her future plans, Echo said that she just wants to enjoy her current role and better help her clients in their job transition in Winnipeg. She is also at the final stage of achieving her Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) designation, another title to be added to her name (Echo is also a member of the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba). She has achieved all of these and she hasn’t even reached her first year in Winnipeg yet. We can only expect greater things to come from this lady who is not only a planner but a go-getter.

Want to know more about SOPA? You can contact Echo Duan at 1-204-944-0133 ext. 229 or go to their website: Settlement Online Pre-Arrival (SOPA).