Newcomer story: Echo Duan

“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 where she worked 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 city for them. After living in big, bustling cities in China, the couple saw Winnipeg’s small town feel as a welcome change.

“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 after arriving 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 to 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).

Newcomer Story: Monica Del Pino Meller

“When I started working, I had to stop attending English classes during the day. I tried attending school at night, but I needed someone to take care of my daughter. My husband was also working and a baby sitter would be an additional expense,” said Monica Del Pino Meller.

This was a dilemma for the young mom because learning English was a top priority. She saw English as a gateway to learning about their new home and a necessary skill to get her back to teaching. Like any newcomer, Monica feared new things and was also worried about the welfare of her child when they landed in Winnipeg.

When she discovered Live and Learn a few months ago, she knew that it was the program for her. The classes allowed her to study at home whenever she had free time and even while taking care of her child.

Falling in love with Canada

“I visited Canada a couple of years ago, and from that time on I fell in love with this amazing country,” Monica said. In 2010, Monica was one of the delegates to a summer Youth Camp at URJ Camp George in Ontario. There she had her first experience working with Canadian kids and felt the great sense of community spirit. When she and her husband decided to emigrate from Cuba, it was only logical that Canada was their first choice.

“We chose to leave for different reasons, mainly economic ones. We decided to move to Manitoba because I was looking for a small city. I don’t really like big cities like Toronto or Quebec. We also found that they were looking for professionals, for skilled workers here. So my husband I applied,” she said.

When they arrived in Winnipeg six months ago, the couple discovered many programs that taught them about various aspects of everyday life in the province. “In Manitoba, they really spend a lot of time and money getting newcomers settled in the city. There are so many programs that taught us about laws, economics, what to do in emergency cases,” Monica said. This assuaged many of their fears about settling and finding their way around Winnipeg.

“Live and Learn is perfect for parents like me who have work and have to take care of kids. I’m really comfortable learning online but I’m aware that it can be hard for some people. But I definitely recommend Live and Learn even for people who can attend school. You can find really good materials here. You have a lot of information, you even have seminars! In my opinion, it’s great! I definitely recommend it”

Learning English at night

Monica holds a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Havana. Before coming to Manitoba, she was a computer technician and a teacher in Cuba. She found fulfillment in teaching computer education to elementary students, which is why her goal is to get back to teaching. She realized that the first step would be to hone her English skills so that she could achieve her career goals.

At first, Monica and her husband enrolled at MITT for English classes. But when they started getting jobs, they could attend only at night. This led to another problem: unless they hired someone, no one was left with their five year old. Monica decided to quit the class since her husband needed English instruction more than she did. It was a good thing that Monica discovered Live and Learn while surfing the net. “At first, I read the articles and self-study materials. They were so helpful and it’s great that I can learn anytime I chose. After this, I registered for Virtual Coffee chats,” Monica said. She has since signed up for the LINC Home Study program for one-on-one English classes.

“Live and Learn is perfect for parents like me who have work and have kids. I’m really comfortable learning online but I’m aware that it can be hard for some people. But I definitely recommend Live and Learn even for people who can attend school. You can find really good materials here. You have a lot of information, you even have seminars! In my opinion, it’s great! I definitely recommend it,” Monica said.

Moving forward in her professional and personal life

After two months in the call centre, Monica applied for a job at a corporate training solutions company. With her IT and teaching background, Monica was perfect for the position of training specialist. However, she expressed apprehensions about her English during the interview. She needed more time to hone her English in order to teach. The company saw Monica’s value so they offered her an administrative job. This will allow her to stay in the company while she worked on her English and eventually move up to a teaching role in the near future.

With a rosy future ahead of her, the spunky and cheerful lady is loving life in her new home. She says that adjusting to life in a new country can be difficult at first, but it all works out in the end. “I remember that time when we plugged our car into a block heater for the first time. We did it well in advance but when we tried to start the car, it wouldn’t. We checked everything and asked help from our friends. Someone even tried to use jumper cables but it didn’t help. Finally, we called CAA. We waited and they arrived at 11 pm. Imagine how we felt when they told us that the problem was that we used the wrong cord to plug the car in! There were two cords and we wasted a whole day because we chose the wrong one. So now, we always plug in both cords just to make sure,” Monica said laughing.

She can now look back at this incident with humor and take it as a learning experience. Her positivity is probably why, in a matter of a few months, she was able to carve out a clear career path and is quickly moving towards her goals. She is loving Manitoba with its responsive programs and the beautiful scenery all around, whether in summer or winter. More importantly, she is happy that her daughter is adjusting well and of course learning English faster than her parents.

Asked for tips for other newcomers like her, Monica has this to say: “Be prepared for winter. Also, adjust to Canadian culture, not the other way around. For example, the culture at work. Back in Cuba, you can ask your co-workers really personal questions. It’s normal. But here, you cannot. And that’s alright. You have to make an effort to adapt to rules and the culture of the people around you if you want to succeed and fully integrate.”

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.

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

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.

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: Narynbek Turgunbaev

“So far so good” that was Naryn’s message when I spoke to him. Having arrived in Winnipeg just last March 28, he and his family have been living in Winnipeg for barely a month now. However, his immersion into Canadian life began several months before they actually moved. Through online training with English Online and SOPA, Naryn had been gearing up to be familiar with Manitoba and job-ready by the time he got here.

From the “Switzerland of Central Asia”

Narynbek and his family immigrated from Kyrgyztan. Just like many immigrant families, moving to Canada was a decision the couple made to provide their children a better future. So despite Naryn’s stable career as a senior electrical engineer in Kyrgyztan, they decided to move. “My wife and I discussed it, and we decided that we wanted our children to have better opportunities,” Naryn said. Right now, he is quite happy to see that his two daughters, aged seven and five, are adjusting well in school.

Just like his daughters, Naryn is doing well in his first few weeks. He said he didn’t really need to adjust to the climate as it is similar to Kyrgyztan’s. Also, aside from information from Live & Learn, acquaintances from his home country have made it easy for them to settle. “Some friends from Kyrgyztan helped us look for an apartment and buy a car. So everything’s good. They have warned us about mosquitoes in the summer though,” Naryn said.

At the moment, he is busy familiarizing himself with the city. He is going around, trying to find shops and stores where he could get things for the house. He is also trying to locate other essential establishments for basic services. One of the best things that Naryn has discovered about Winnipeg is that everything is located strategically so they are not hard to find.

“I like the Coffee Chats because everything I learned there is useful. I also practice my speaking and listening skills, learn grammar, and hear about the experiences of other newcomers in Manitoba. I was able to speak with other newcomer Manitobans for the first time.”

Clear path

After finishing the workshop at Entry Program, Naryn is looking forward to beginning Manitoba Start’s Career Program next week. At the same time, he has started his path to licensure by connecting with his professional association. Naryn has already researched on the requirements to become a member of the association and mapped out the next steps for his licensure. He says that he is able to plan his path clearly because of his preparations before coming to Manitoba.

Naryn took the Settlement Online Pre-Arrival (SOPA) months back. Through the pre-arrival employment guidance program, he learned what to prepare for to practice his career since his profession is regulated. His facilitator was a big help and gave him links to resources and his professional association. While training with SOPA, Naryn learned about English Online. He registered and started attending Coffee Chats. He also used self-study materials online. “I like the Coffee Chats because everything I learned there is useful. I also practice my speaking and listening skills, learn grammar and hear about the experiences of other newcomers in Manitoba. I was able to speak with other newcomer Manitobans for the first time,” he said.

Right after his training with Manitoba Start, Naryn plans to start applying to jobs. “But not survival jobs, for sure,” he said. He is not expecting an engineering job right away but it was clear from his tone that he will make sure that his skills and training will be utilized in his prospective job. Aside from job hunting, Naryn wants to study more English and then later French, to broaden his horizons.

This is a busy time for Naryn but his positive outlook shines through. Asked for a message to other newcomers like him, he said: “I want to say: don’t worry about anything. You can do it. Just do it. Be brave. The change will be good. When you get here, movement is important. Do everything and go everywhere. Don’t be shy. Try everything!”

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,” she 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 licence 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: 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.

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 me 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.