Oleksandr and his family came to Manitoba from Ukraine in March 2014. A close friend convinced him to immigrate to the province and offered to sponsor them. So, together with his wife and three year old son, the family settled in Portage la Prairie, a small city in the Central Plains region of Manitoba, 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
When they arrived in Manitoba, Oleksandr found it difficult at first to adjust to the culture, transportation, and especially the language. “Aside from learning English, I had to learn how to communicate in an indirect way. I found that people here are always so polite and service is (pleasantly) different,” he said.
With the help of his friends, he began to seek out settlement support services, such as Manitoba Start, to help him get the proper information and the training that he needed to get a job. A bigger challenge, however, was the distance. He realized that some of the services that he needed were in Winnipeg, which required a long travel from Portage la Prairie. This wasn’t easy, especially during the winter.
In the meantime, he and his wife attended the Newcomer Welcome Centre in town for ESL training. But once Oleksandr started working, he found it hard to find free time for language training and to attend face to face classes.
“I could not believe that I could find somebody in my own field who would be willing to teach me and help me. Mercedes Hudson, my e-mentor, introduced me to the Certified Technicians and Technologists Association of Manitoba (CCTAM) and helped me get my educational credentials and experience assessed,” he said.
The online option
Oleksandr knew that he needed English language training so he tried to look for other options. It was through the good people at the Newcomer Welcome Centre that he got in contact with English Online (EO). The facilitators told him about the flexible English language training carried out through Skype and arranged for him to register.
At first, Oleksandr tried out the Group Study sessions. “Aside from English, I also Iearned how to write a resume, cover letter, official and non-official email, and prepare for an interview. EO also taught me how to make presentations using Powerpoint,” Oleksandr related. More importantly, learning about workplace communications widened his perspective at work. “Because of what I learned at EO, I could now relate to colleagues better and now understand what the management expects from me,” he said.
After the Group sessions, Oleksandr was paired up with an EAL e-tutor so he could have one-on-one language training. “Compared to learning with a group, I liked that you could ask questions whenever you need to when you study with an e-tutor. You don’t want to draw a lot of attention to yourself, so sometimes, even when you have a question, you don’t raise it in a group session. Also my e-mentor, Lillian Bernard, who has Ukrainian background, helped me translate words and especially phrases from English to Ukrainian to understand their proper meaning , and explained the way to communicate well,” he said. With the flexible arrangement he had with the e-tutor, Oleksandr was able to make time for studying English in the evenings and even during the weekends.
Another challenge was getting his education and experience recognized. Oleksandr holds a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and before he left Ukraine, was a self-employed mechanical engineer. So when EO offered the services of a Career E-mentor, he readily accepted. “I could not believe that I could find somebody in my own field who would be willing to teach me and help me. Mercedes Hudson, my e-mentor, introduced me to the Certified Technicians and Technologists Association of Manitoba (CCTAM) and helped me get my educational credentials and experience assessed,” he said. Oleksandr has also taken some courses at the University of Winnipeg and will take an English test in January, all in preparation for the membership process to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists in Manitoba (APEGM).
Growing possibilities, growing family
“I am very thankful to English Online for all their help. I know that hard work will make newcomers succeed, but without the direction first, which EO gave me, I would not know how to start,” Oleksandr said. Now a believer in online learning, he urged his wife to register with EO too. “Learning with EO is the perfect arrangement for my wife who has to take care of our son and our new baby (a daughter). I suggested learning with an EAL e-tutor to her and so far she likes it and says that it is very effective for her,” he said.
Asked about tips he can share with other newcomers (aside from learning English before coming to Canada), Oleksandr generously said, “be prepared for winter”. For me, winter may not be a big deal because we experience this season at home, but I say this especially for those who are not used to it. The weather can be very difficult to adjust to,” he said.
“Also, always stay positive. Manitoba is a place of possibilities. So long as you are willing to work hard, you will succeed in Manitoba,” he ended with a smile.