Newcomer Story: Firouzeh Azhdari-Nassab
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 livelearn.ca 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: Prabaharan Balasubramanian
Praba’s family immigrated to Thompson in 2014. Read how his positive mindset played a big role in his smooth settlement and getting employed within the first month of his arrival in Manitoba. Be inspired by his commitment to lifelong learning as it continues to propel him closer to his dream career.
Praba is brimming with positivity. I met him over Skype but one could feel the warmth and enthusiasm through the screen. I thanked him profusely for speaking to us on a Tuesday morning. You have to understand, many of our clients choose to learn online precisely because of their tight schedules. Praba is no exception. What was exceptional though was his willingness to share his story so that he could inspire other Manitoban newcomers.
From South India to Winnipeg (via Thompson)
Initially, Praba was not interested when a close friend offered to sponsor his family to come to Manitoba. He thought that he was already at a higher level in his career and didn’t really look forward to starting over. However, when he talked to his wife, she was all for it. The family discussed the possibility and eventually applied through MPNP. Their application went smoothly and in about a year’s time, the couple and their two children were bound for Thompson.
They landed in Thompson in 2014 and found the small town welcoming. Praba liked that there were a lot of Indian families there and in a small town, everybody knew each other. What was lacking, however, were social and educational opportunities for his kids. This led to him to set his sights on a bigger city. He started researching about Winnipeg and found some contacts there. In 2015, they eventually moved to Winnipeg.
Discovering settlement assistance and career opportunities
Praba connected with Manitoba Start immediately after moving. He was referred to the Entry Program, a settlement orientation program which he attended for four weeks. “Entry Program taught me so many things I needed to learn not only about Manitoba, but about Canada as a whole. I have attended pre-arrival seminars before we left but Entry Program provided more complete information,” Praba said.
Meanwhile, with the help of Manitoba Start, Praba learned how to craft a Canadian-style resume and cover letter. The Electrical and Electronics Engineering graduate had worked as a sales and marketing manager in his home country but when he saw a want ad for sales and marketing representatives from Shaw Communications, he didn’t hesitate to apply. His career counsellor registered him and coached him through the application process. In the same month, Praba got the job and started right away.
“I am truly thankful to Manitoba Start for their help. They really guide you and coach you from the time you create your resume until you get a job. In fact, they also helped my wife. She is now back in banking, working for Cambrian Credit Union. My wife is now the most motivated person in my family,” Praba said with a smile.
“I am a firm believer in the MPNP program. They give you all the tools to succeed. They hold your hand to guide you through the steps to fully adapt and integrate,” he added.
“When Praba joined English Online his CLB listening skill was 6, speaking at 8, reading at 7 and writing at 5. After a year, his CLB level moved to 7 in most areas. Now he is working to reach level 8 so that he could start on his path towards earning his Engineering licence.”
Praba has impeccable English speaking skills. This is made more impressive based on the fact that back in his home country, they only spoke Tamil. He said he learned English by watching TV and movies. And now he is continuing to hone his English in preparation for his Engineering licensure. Because of his tight schedule at Shaw, he chose to enroll in LINC Home Study (LHS) with English Online. LHS is a language training program available to ESL learners who cannot attend a face-to-face class in Manitoba. Learners use both the EO and LHS platforms to practise language skills. Students receive a CLB certificate upon completion of the course.
“Learning with English Online has been great. First of all, it’s at zero cost and instruction is delivered to you at home via online means. If you ask my e-facilitator Yuliana, she’ll say that my attendance has been 99%! What I like about learning English with her is that I don’t only learn the basics, like spelling and grammar, but the hidden aspects of language as well, for example using the proper tone of voice, and writing in short sentences,” Praba said.
“Learning with LINC Home Study is enriched because of the available resources on livelearn.ca website. It provides information for every aspect of settlement and integration that newcomers need. It does not only teach you about English, it tells you how to live your life well, how to manage your family. Everything is there. All you need is to do is read and learn,” Praba added.
When Praba joined English Online his CLB listening skill was 6, speaking at 8, reading at 7 and writing at 5. After a year, his CLB level moved to 7 in most areas. Now he is working to reach level 8 so that he could start on his path towards earning his Engineering licence. He is optimistic that after his licensure journey, he’ll be able to get his dream job and become a practicing Engineer. With Praba’s commitment and positive attitude, we have no doubt that he’ll realize these goals.
“I meet many newcomers who are content with their English. After they get their first job, they settle in. They don’t know that having less English skills make them underemployed. Continuously improving your English leads to better career opportunities. It will lead you to have a better life in Manitoba.”
Great, great tips
Praba’s tips to newcomers:
- In life, many people will tell you that to be successful you have to be somebody else. But when I got here, they told me to be myself. That’s important. Just be yourself and everything will work out fine.
- When looking for a job, don’t think about levels. The important thing is to get your foot in the door. I started as a sales and marketing representative at Shaw and now I have moved on to Technical Support. This is getting closer to the technical side of things which is my line. I am enjoying my job because I am learning new things every day. Open your mind to possibilities.
- Networking is important. Get to know people. The hidden job market will open up to you.
- Just as our bodies and brains grow new cells every day, we should always keep growing and learning. For example, I meet many newcomers who are content with their English. After they get their first job, they settle in. They don’t know that having less English skills make them underemployed. Continuously improving your English leads to better career opportunities. It will lead you to have a better life in Manitoba. So keep on learning.
- Hang on and don’t lose hope. Just keep on persevering.
E-Volunteer Story: Sameer Hammad – Taking every opportunity to give back
When Sameer was a young man, he went to Turkey for a holiday. He was on his own and excited for his 10-day spree. But as soon as he got there, a thief stole all of his money. Stuck as a tourist with no one to turn to, he felt lost in a foreign land. When the family who owned the hotel learned about his predicament, they offered to return Sameer’s payment for his entire stay. They told him that he can send the payment later when he gets home. This act of trust and generosity made such an impact on him that he resolved that from then on, every time that he is presented with a chance to give back, he will do so.
This is what Sameer has been doing to this day. This is the spirit that powers the amazing volunteer work he has been providing for newcomers to Canada.
Giving is in his blood
Helping others is actually in Sameer’s blood. His grandfather served as a mayor of a city in their home country in 1948. It was his legacy to his family of educated professionals, engineers, and physicians to serve and give to whomever was in need. Today, many new Canadians owe Sameer a debt of gratitude for his tireless service.
As one of English Online’s most active e-volunteers for five years now, he dedicates 3-5 hours every week to teach English to new Manitobans. Knowing that English proficiency is essential to successful integration, Sameer sees to it that he is responsive and accommodating to his students. His unique style of mentorship focuses on results, prioritizing on each learner’s most immediate goals. But aside from EO learners, Sameer also takes on several students who are still in their home countries, sometimes teaching 2-3 learners during the weekends. He helps them prepare for life in Canada and to become proficient in English so that they’ll have a better chance of succeeding when they arrive. He does not limit extending his help to others – whether Arab, Jew, or whatever ethnic background or religion they belong to. He does all this for free.
When Sameer started getting questions beyond learning the English language from immigrants, he began thinking of expanding his range and reach. Going on social media was the logical choice because this is where most immigrants are connecting nowadays. Sameer launched The Arab Immigrants Facebook Page, FB group, and a YouTube channel where he posts useful articles, news, and links; answers questions; and produces videos featuring anything from overcoming culture shock to the qualifications recognition process. Just recently, he produced a series of interviews featuring successful newcomer entrepreneurs in Manitoba to share their formula for success. He also interviewed professionals who have undergone qualifications recognition to provide information and inspiration to newcomers who are about to go through the same path. In just a month’s time, The Arab Immigrants gained about 2,300 members (Note: Currently, in 2021, the group has more than 22,000 members).
“Canada is a wonderful country. It is truly a land of opportunity. I am happy to see that my children are thriving and learning to take charge and become leaders. So I want to see other people realize their goal to have a better life too. I consider it a privilege to be able to help out in any way I can and see more newcomers succeed in Canada.”
His newcomer journey
Sameer came to Manitoba in 2009. Just like any other immigrant, his own journey had its own share of challenges. However, many serendipitous events made it clear to him that moving to Canada was meant to happen. Initially, as a successful engineer based in Dubai, immigrating was not something he was planning on.
At that time, Sameer was at the top of his career with 30 years of experience as an electronics and communications engineer under his belt. His last job title in the UAE was Network and Operations Engineer at SamaCom Teleport Dubai, the largest teleport in the Middle East. He was also Technical Editor for a satellite and electronics magazine for more than 10 years. The only hitch was that, at that time, there were no opportunities for him and his family to become permanent residents, much less become citizens in Dubai. As luck would have it, Sameer met a Pakistani businessman who told him all about Canada. This started his research about immigrating and this eventually led to his application for a Canadian visa.
Sameer and his family were actually planning on living in Toronto when one of his relatives received a scholarship in Manitoba. Curious, he visited Manitoba and immediately liked the province’s vibe. “The lifestyle in Winnipeg is not rushed. It has a good pace. Everything is accessible especially for someone who hates driving. You can reach any place in an hour and a half or less,” he said. He returned to Dubai and together with his family, came back and settled in Manitoba.
Sameer brought his expertise to MB Hydro International where he became a project consultant for four and a half years. With the downsizing at MB Hydro, Sameer has taken a vacation (not really retiring, even when he’s in his 60s) and is now spending more time on his volunteer work.
Working with newcomers
Before working with MB Hydro, Sameer had to go through the qualifications recognition process in order to practice his profession despite having decades of professional expertise. “Like other newcomers, I thought that once I had the visa, I can come to Canada and immediately work in my field. But I was surprised,” he said. This is why qualifications recognition is among the topics he focuses on in his social media channels today. He is also the current vice president of the Arab Engineers Chapter which is part of EGM, (Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba, the regulating body of the profession in MB), which aims to assist engineer newcomers. The group was formed last year and has been spearheading various activities and social work. “I would like to note that our chapter is open to everyone, not only Arabs. They can join us as long as they are not a member of other chapters,” Sameer said.
According to him, the most common problem prospective immigrants and newcomers have is knowing where to look for information. He says that many are not familiar with the right website to go to and decipher which ones are reliable (like government websites). And when they do get website links, they need help in understanding the information. This points to the need for more accessible information as well as the importance of having a guide.
Aside from this, Sameer advises newcomers to improve their English before coming here. According to him, newcomers should strive to reach an IELTS score of at least 7. “This will help you immensely when looking for career and educational opportunities. If you need to go back to school for advancement or licensing, most educational institutions in Manitoba will accept you if you have a score of 7 and up,” he said. He also advises newcomers to avail of government programs. “When you land in Manitoba, join newcomer programs to help you in your settlement and career. There are free programs that can really help you get settled and get a job. You should also join English language programs to continually improve your English,” Sameer said. “I myself joined the local Toast Masters Club to learn public speaking”, he added.
Happy to help
Sameer has already earned the right to take life easy and just enjoy Canada. His children are well on their way to becoming successes on their own and as early as now, they are following their father’s example in being of service to others. But Sameer doesn’t seem to be slowing down as he continues to volunteer, create more helpful content on his social media channels and explore ways to be of service to others.
“Canada is a wonderful country. It is truly a land of opportunity. I am happy to see that my children are thriving and learning to take charge and become leaders. So I want to see other people realize their goal to have a better life too. I consider it a privilege to be able to help out in any way I can and see more newcomers succeed in Canada,” he said.
Check out Sameer’s informative videos here: The Arab Immigrants YouTube Channel
Join his Facebook Group to learn tips about settling in Manitoba: The Arab Immigrants.
To know more about the EGM Arab Engineers Chapter, email email@example.com or see their Facebook page.
Newcomer Story: Walter Galvarino
If you ask Walter why he and his family moved to Manitoba he will say that it’s for their children. During their exploratory trip to Winnipeg, he saw that his three kids would thrive in this city with its pleasant and open spaces, parks and good schools. Today, two years after they made the decision to move, Walter is finding that not only are his kids thriving, but himself and his wife as well.
Walter, his wife, kids, their dog and cat arrived in Manitoba in 2016 from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He remembers his initial encounter with the city’s climate. “When came out of the airport door, it felt so cold. It was two degrees then. After our first winter here, I can now say that two degrees is just like summer,” Walter said laughing.
Aside from the weather, there were a lot of other things the family needed to get used to. He worried about how his kids would adapt to the culture and the language. He also worried about finding a doctor, buying a car or getting a job. He recalls a time in their first few months when they were trying to decide which milk to buy. “I saw that there are a lot of options here! There was 2%, 5%, 5.5% . . . so we tried each one and threw out what we didn’t like until we found the right one,” Walter said. “I realize that you start from zero here. Not only in finding a job or learning English, but in everything, like food, culture, friends,” he added.
He quickly realized that that not knowing enough English was a challenge when he actually lived here, compared to when he was just visiting. “When I arrived in Winnipeg, I could only say “hello”. It was so hard for me because I love to talk. I love knowing people. The only way I could talk was through my wife. That part was very hard,” Walter said.
“Studying with EO was perfect for me because I could study in the evening, in my home, in my couch, without shoes. I am in the basement and I could hear my children in the kitchen.”
He started studying English at MITT but later on, he saw that he needed to spend more time with his family. A friend told him about English Online and he decided to register. He emailed English Online’s volunteer coordinator Tatiana Nedelko and asked to be paired with an ESL e-tutor. He was first paired with Michael from Vancouver, and then later with Mary from Toronto, an arrangement that Walter liked. “I think is important to have different tutors from different cities. This way I hear and learn different accents,” Walter said.
“Studying with EO was perfect for me because I could study in the evening, in my home, in my couch, without shoes. I am in the basement and I could hear my children in the kitchen” he added. He also likes the fact that EO has so many volunteers from all over Canada who could teach at different levels. He now shares this positive experience with every newcomer that he meets so that they could benefit from learning from English Online as well.
Take little steps every day. Never stop
Walter worked as a project manager back in his home country. He was a quality services and procedures supervisor and was in the process of earning a counsellor diploma before he left Argentina. Today, Walter works at a flower company that imports from Ecuador and sells to cities all over Canada. On the day of our interview, Walter nearly begged off because he needed to take over his boss who had to leave for Europe. It’s evident that he loves his work. He is grateful that he gets to communicate daily with a lot people in his job because he can continually hone his English skills.
One thing that Walter advises to newcomers is to take advantage of job opportunities however small. He sees that it’s a great opportunity to learn Canadian work culture and English skills. He himself took a job in housekeeping at Delta Hotel and found that the close contact with the customers and other workers helped him improve his language and people skills. “I know it’s hard. You will not always feel happy. But as I always say, take it one step a day. Today, you work in housekeeping, but it is a step so that tomorrow you may get a better job. You never know,” Walter said. “My wife is a psychologist. She studied for a lot of years in Argentina and has lot of experience. When she got here, she worked in a call centre. And now, she has found a perfect job as a counsellor. She is very happy with her job,” he added.
Walter and his wife are already planning their next small steps in the following months. He will take his IELTS test in December and perhaps finish his Counsellor diploma. He is also looking to volunteer with English Online to add to his current volunteer job with the Argentina Manitoba Association helping new families who want to apply to immigrate to Manitoba. His wife on the other hand is preparing to start school to earn her Master’s Degree.
“I know it’s hard. You will not always feel happy. But as I always say, take it one step a day.”
Walter’s other tips:
- Never stop learning. Use all the resources the province is offering. There are a lot of programs you can get for free and there are institutes all over Manitoba. You can even study by yourself in your home.
- Take your time. It is not mandatory that you have a house and everything on your first year. If you feel pressure, you will lose your focus. Take little steps every day. In this country, everything is possible. You can work, study, you can aspire for anything that you want.
- It’s more comfortable to speak with people from your own culture. But I know from experience that if I speak only with Argentinians, my English will never improve. So I always talk to other people. I speak to my neighbours. And then I say, oh no, they speak very fast! But I try and practise. Maybe talk to people on the bus, or go by yourself to see the doctor.
- Open your mind and think that you could do it. Be true to yourself. Don’t feel afraid. Don’t feel ashamed. If you make a mistake, just say sorry. Or ask if you don’t understand. There are so many immigrants in Winnipeg. People are used to someone trying to learn English.
Finally, Walter shares this with other newcomers: “Winnipeg is special to families. So take things one step a day, make short term goals. Listen to all stories, not only the success stories, but stay positive. Always think about the future, always saying “I can do this” and work hard to reach your dreams.”
Newcomer story: Irkan Nur
Irkan has been studying with English Online since July this year. She is Somali-born but was living in Kenya before moving to Canada. Irkan used to work as an article writer for a local radio station in Somalia (she has also published two books incidentally) but left due to the instability and unrest. She fled to Nairobi in 2013 where she earned her diploma in Development Studies. After graduating, Irkan realized that the life that she was living in Kenya was not the one she wanted. However, she was not looking forward to going back to Somalia since the climate had not changed. Instead, she set her sights for Canada where her half-sister was living.
“We reached our home from the airport at 10 pm and still the sun was shining. I was surprised that people were calling it evening!”
First impressions of Canada
It was a dream come true for Irkan when she arrived in Winnipeg. She was so thankful that she wrote: “I arrived at the Winnipeg airport in May 2018 at around 9:00 pm where my sister Nimo, my brother Mahad and refugee coordinator Gail were waiting for me. That evening was the greatest evening of my life!” Like any newcomer, she was eager to look around in her new home. She noted everything she saw on the trip on the way to their house. What actually surprised her were not the streets, buildings, or even the weather. “We reached our home from the airport at 10 pm and still the sun was shining. I was surprised that people were calling it evening!” Irkan said.
Help from settlement agencies
Irkan hit the ground running. A few days later, she signed up with Manitoba Start and attended programs and workshops with Entry Program. She also took the language benchmark test at WELARC (she scored CLB 6/5/6/5) and learned about the various orientation and language training programs she could avail for free. Ikran started applying for jobs and thought that it would only take her one to two months to start working. But when she started applying, she realized that jobs here are highly specialized. “For instance, if you worked in an IT role, there is no such thing as a general IT person here. It should be specific, such as computer programmer, network manager or software developer. There is no generalization in the workplace, you should have specific experience in a specific role.” This led to several unsuccessful applications. But despite this experience, Irkan appreciates that there are a lot of organizations that help newcomers figure out this process. “There’s Manitoba Start and there’s WELARC. They gave me a career coach and they sent me to EESE (Enhanced English Skills for Employment) for some free courses. And now I’m learning with Live and Learn. It’s amazing, I can see people are helping immigrants. It’s a wonderful thing” Irkan said.
“I’m always with Live and Learn. Sometimes I’m in the sessions and sometimes I’m just reading the articles. I’m always here, morning, lunch time, dinner,” she said. “I really like e-learning.”
Learning English and planning for a career in human rights
“A relative told me that I should just look for work. Never mind those programs, because it’s a waste of time,” Irkan shared. “But I think that life is more than getting a job. It’s also about the experience, it’s about getting an education. And you can get that here in Manitoba,” she added. So aside from learning with EESE, she signed up with an EAL e-tutor at Live and Learn to supplement her learning. She liked that her e-tutor Pamela asked her about her learning needs and priorities. “I had the four skills but she focused on my pronunciation and I really appreciate that. My pronunciation was so poor before and now I can confidently talk and talk,” Irkan said. After she was done with her 10 sessions with Pamela, she started joining the Coffee Chats with Amrita and Blaine. “I’m always with Live and Learn. Sometimes I’m in the sessions and sometimes I’m just reading the articles. I’m always here, morning, lunch time, dinner,” she said. “I really like e-learning. With Live and Learn, I also increase my vocabulary, I like that,” she said.
For now, Irkan is taking it easy and focusing on improving her English. She plans on applying for jobs again, but even then, she plans to work only part-time so that she has time to take up a course. She is interested in child development and developing a career in human rights. “I want to think about things that will benefit people. We are in a country that is respectful and welcoming to immigrants so we should give back and support it,” she said.
Tips for newcomers:
- I recommend that newcomers use settlement supports like Manitoba Start and WELARC. I learned good information from these agencies. Don’t just sit at home, waiting for a job, or asking relatives to give you a job.
- The weather is unimaginable! It’s truly a wonder. They will see and experience a lot of things. But they will love living in Manitoba.
- Some people stop learning when they get a job. They should make an effort to learn. Continue to learn the language and learn new things. We should also be innovative and helpful. This is how you will succeed in Canada.