Newcomer Story: Amandeep Kaur Sidhu
Two days after school started, Amandeep’s daughter came home from school weeping. She said “Mom I don’t understand what they are saying. They are not playing with me. I’m not going back to school, I’m going back to my grandma!”
This experience was heartbreaking, not only for her six-year old but for Amandeep as well. This was her foremost concern when they arrived in Manitoba. “My greatest fear was for my children. I was worried that they will feel homesickness. They are very close to their grandparents. They used to live with them when we were in India. My two-year-old son always walked outside with his grandfather,” Amandeep said.
This is a problem many newcomer families face. But Amandeep’s experience also shows how resilient and adaptable children are. Today, barely five months from arriving in Manitoba, her daughter has adjusted well in her second grade class. Amandeep also credits the teachers for giving her child full support. “They are always encouraging my daughter by giving her toys and activities so that she can enjoy school,” she said.
Amandeep breathes a sigh of relief and now focuses on her own settlement journey. She has attended the four-week program at the Entry Program in November despite having issues with childcare. This is why she was so thankful to discover online learning with Live & Learn.
“Through this program I have learned things like the bus route, how to check the schedule, how to get the bus pass. I’m learning about stores also – where we can purchase things, how to get there… We get a lot of information about how we can protect ourselves and our kids when we are outside. I learned that when it is cold, we should cover the neck. Before, I didn’t know how important this was.”
Learning at home when the baby is asleep
Amandeep has been actively participating in the Coffee Chats and Drop-in Workshops since December. “I think it’s very good. If I didn’t learn about English Online, I would not be learning anything because I will be at home taking care of my two-year old son. And now I’m learning a lot every day even if I’m just here at home,” Amandeep said.
“Through this program I have learned things like the bus route, how to check the schedule, how to get the bus pass. I’m learning about stores also – where we can purchase things, how to get there. Another important thing is learning about the weather. We get a lot of information about how we can protect ourselves and our kids when we are outside. I learned that when it is cold, we should cover the neck. Before, I didn’t know how important this was,” Amandeep added. “Our e-Facilitators Amrita and Blaine help us learn a lot of practical things. Other students also ask questions. So we learn from them too.”
Her positive experience with Live & Learn has led her to recommend it to friends. “I have a friend who has been in Manitoba for four years. She had a baby shortly after arriving here. So she was a stay-at-home mom for a year and a half. I told her recently about these classes and now she has also joined. She said that if only she knew about English Online before, she would not have wasted a year and a half. We have another friend who is a firetruck mechanic. My husband told him about my classes online and now they (the friend and his wife) are asking me how to join,” Amandeep said.
Recently, Amandeep has also taken classes from an English Online e-Tutor who she meets every Tuesday and Friday. “I take these classes while my son is asleep and I can study. I have conversations with her and she helps me with my pronunciation. I’m also reading books and she told me I can ask her questions and tell her if I have problems,” Amandeep said.
Studying and other future plans
“I am thinking that when my child is a little bit bigger, I can study a course related to my field and then get a job here,” Amandeep said. She has an MSC degree and worked as a network technician for a school back in India. “I am also looking to get my mother a visitor visa so that she can come here for six months and help me with the kids. I would then be able to take a course,” she added.
But for now, Amandeep is learning more about Manitoba and improving her English before she explores her career options. What is important to her is using her time productively while at home. She is also looking forward to spring and summer when she and her kids can go outdoors and play. As it is, she is very careful about letting her kids run around indoors as the noise irritates their neighbours downstairs. This is another situation newcomer families with young kids need to be careful about when living in an apartment.
Tips for other newcomers:
- It is important to have a relative or friend in Manitoba. It would be good to have someone who can help you. When we arrived, I was nervous and afraid. I was not sure if anybody can help us or not. We had relatives here but they had to move to Brampton. It was good that I have a friend who offered to help us. She picked us up from the airport. She actually took a week off from work just to help us settle. Our friend helped us get important documents like our SIN, heath card and other documents that we needed. We also stayed with her for month before we found an apartment.
- Starting here is very hard. But don’t make it hard on yourself. Start slowly, learn when you can. Take it easy especially during winter.
- Take courses at English Online because it saves you time and you can learn while you are at home. Even after you get a job, you can still take classes here because they have classes in the morning and the topics are repeated in the evening so you can still join. All the information I get here is very beneficial for me and my family!
Ramtha and her family were living in Lebanon before they moved to Manitoba. Originally from Syria, they fled the country to escape rising hostilities. Facing the harsh realities of war while caring for and travelling with a newborn child was hard for the family as anyone would imagine. This is why, above everything else, they are most grateful for their peaceful and safe life that they now have in Manitoba.
Unlike most Syrian families who came to Canada by way of refugee sponsorship, Ramtha’s family immigrated through the sponsorship of her brother-in-law who was living in Winnipeg. She remembers their arrival on July 4, 2016: “When we arrived, we found that everything was ready for us. My brother-in-law had rented a house and he bought all the furniture. It was good at first,” Ramtha said. After a year, her brother-in-law moved to a different province leaving them to fend for themselves.
“Learning with EO is “very useful because there is grammar, there is writing, vocabulary and expressions. The teachers are very professional. Teacher Blaine and Amrita are very helpful. Even in the Coffee Chat and workshops, there is a kind of discussion and it’s very nice. I like the articles and the kind of materials that we use because everything is useful. It’s excellent service for us.”
Starting from scratch and setting goals
Despite this setback, the young family knew that they had to adapt. They did not waste time and started working on their settlement in Manitoba.
“Our next concern was to learn the language. After we took our tests from WELARC, we had to wait for our placement in a school because I had a daughter and needed childcare. So I waited until January 2017,” Ramtha said. She started learning English at Mosaic and aimed to earn CLB 6 so that she could enroll in a course at Red River College. Ramtha was waitlisted at Red River so she continued her studies at Enhanced English Skills for Employment (EESE) while waiting.
After studying at EESE, Ramtha delivered her second child. It was at this point that she learned about LINC Home Study. “This was the first time I’ve heard of it,” Ramtha said. “If only I had known about this earlier, I would’ve started LINC with English Online (EO) on my first year. But I’m happy that I’ve joined EO. Online learning works for me. You can do a lot online. You can have a job and study online. In my case, I have kids to take care of,” she said.
Ramtha adds that learning with EO is “very useful because there is grammar, there is writing, vocabulary and expressions. The teachers are very professional. Teacher Blaine and Amrita are very helpful. Even in the Coffee Chat and workshops, there is a kind of discussion and it’s very nice. I like the articles and the kind of materials that we use because everything is useful. It’s excellent service for us.”
Earlier, she had finished a short course on Early Childhood Education. But Ramtha wants to get more education and training to boost her career options so she is continuing to set language goals. Through LINC, she is well on her way to achieving a CLB 8 which will allow her to enroll in a Certificate in Adult Education program in one of the universities in Manitoba.
After living in Winnipeg for two and half years, Ramtha feels like they still have a long way to go before she can say that they are settled. “We had my brother in law only on the first year. We don’t have friends or family here. But we are trying to adapt,” she said. “We still don’t have jobs yet, I just work for a few hours at Mosaic. After I attended their program, I had the chance to work at Mosaic as a volunteer. And now they are giving me a few hours to work in their family programs. But after I gave birth to my second baby I had to stay at home,” she added.
Ramtha says that their adjustment to Manitoba is made easier by the friendly people and the opportunities immigrants are given to get an education. “I like the people here. They are very helpful. When we go to any organization, any place, we find that people just want to help. They call this place ‘Friendly Manitoba’ and I say that this is true.”
“Another thing I like is that they give you a lot of opportunities to study. Even after they help you learn the language, they give you a chance to complete your studies or maybe finish what you started back home. Most people I meet want to study. Because when you earn a certificate here, it increases your chances to have a good job,” she said.
Tips to newcomers:
Ramtha was a little hesitant when I asked if she had some advice for newcomers saying that “I myself I need a lot of tips because we are still adjusting,” she said, laughing. However, she shared the following:
- Come with family. “When you come to Manitoba, I think the best is to come with family. It will be very hard if you are alone. When you come with family, you have their support. There a lot of challenges here and you will need their help. Especially in winter because a lot of us have the winter blues. It’s important to have someone talk to or someone to visit. I myself miss our church community. We haven’t found our church here so we go to different ones when we need to. We usually to the Coptic Church because they speak Arabic and Egyptian people are very nice. They help us a lot.”
- Take advantage of educational opportunities. “Like I said, it’s a good thing that we are given many opportunities to study. Immigrants can take courses and trainings. They even have it online. This is a good thing because we can use this education to have a better career here.”
- You need to adapt. “Adapting is hard. It takes years and for me I’m still adapting. But we need to continue adapting and learning.”
Priyanthi and her family came to Winnipeg in December 2014. However, it was a brief landing for her as she shortly had to go back to Sri Lanka because her son back home needed her help. It took three more years before she came back to Winnipeg to settle here for good.
Her first and second arrivals in Winnipeg were both memorable for Priyanthi. Enroute to Manitoba, she had the chance to go around and see some parts of the US, the UK and Toronto. She enjoyed seeing different places and was very thankful to friends who picked them up from the airport and toured them around different sites. But aside from the beautiful scenery, her experience communicating with immigration officers stood out in her mind. She remembers having a hard time answering their questions and filling out the forms in most of the airports they went through. “It was difficult for me to answer and I was confused,” she said. You could sense Priyanthi’s frustration when she told her story. During the interview, she paused several times to think of the precise English words to say. You just know that there are so many things she wishes to say but can’t exactly voice out.
“When I first came to Canada, I was scared to open my mouth to speak. It was difficult. Teacher Yini taught me to be confident with my English. Now I am not scared. I can manage to speak to other people”
Improving her English and learning about Manitoba
Upon her second arrival to Winnipeg, Priyanthi worked immediately on improving her English language skills. She went to Manitoba Start to ask about English classes. Because of chronic back pain which prevented her from travelling, she was referred to English Online (EO). “English Online is very helpful for me,” Priyanthi said, “I study at home. I don’t have to take a long bus ride (my home is far) especially when it’s cold,” she added. She enrolled in EO’s LINC Home Study six months ago and continues to be active in all of the classes.
“When I first came to Canada, I was scared to open my mouth to speak. It was difficult. Teacher Yini taught me to be confident with my English. Now I am not scared. I can manage to speak to other people,” Priyanthi said. “She is very helpful for me. She helps me improve my English language and she also tells me good information,” she added.
From barely no English Priyanthi is now able to carry on short conversations. She is steadily improving her language skills because of her consistent attendance and hard work. Now she is able to work as a teacher’s assistant in a Montessori school and volunteers with St. Ignatius Church. A few days before this interview, her back pain flared up again because she overextended herself while helping out in a summer course for kids. This points to Priyanthi’s dedication to teaching, a job she really loves.
Priyanthi has been a teacher all her life. Back in Sri Lanka, she was a dance teacher. She was also a Sunday School teacher to her kids and the children in her village. Her interest in psychology and religion led her to finish a Master’s degree in Theology.
Building a nice and peaceful life
Priyanthi remains optimistic about their future in Manitoba. She is learning English while her husband is studying Computer Engineering at Red River College. Meanwhile, her daughter recently graduated from post-secondary studies and will be entering university this year to study Engineering. She looks forward to a time when she could go back to teaching full time with better health and English proficiency.
“I came here without much English knowledge, but Manitoba Start and English Online helped me to learn. Everyone is very helpful and they build our confidence. So I say to other newcomers, don’t be afraid to come here because many people will help you learn not only English, but how to live well and peacefully. One thing that is very difficult is the cold weather. Winter time is very difficult. But when you get used to this environment, it becomes okay. Don’t worry about the weather. You can have a nice life. Study the language, learn how to work in Canada, get skills development and find a job. You can have a good life. Canada is a very good country,” Priyanthi said.
We spoke to Puja one afternoon while she was looking after her children. She’s a full-time mom with two very active toddlers but she’s excited to be interviewed. Mixed with the tiny voices of her little ones, she told her settlement story in her halting but confident English.
The language barrier
Come to think of it, this interview would not have been possible a few years ago.
Puja’s husband had already been living in Edmonton, Alberta when she joined him in 2015. After several months, the couple moved to Winnipeg in search of better job opportunities. The young wife and mother remembers that she was entirely dependent on her husband in those first months due to the language barrier. She knew Gujarati (one of the languages spoken in India) and barely knew English. “I was scared to talk to people,” Puja said.
One of her husband’s friends advised her to inquire from Manitoba Start about English classes. Because she had kids to take care of, Puja was referred to English Online right after taking her language test at WELARC. “First, I attended Coffee Chats with Blaine (English Online e-Facilitator) to help with my English,” Puja said. Later on, Blaine suggested LINC Home Study so that she could get formal English instruction and a certificate at the end of the course. Puja is intending to apply for Canadian citizenship and the certificate may be used as a proof of English language proficiency. She started LINC Home Study with English Online in November 2016.
“I like learning online because everything is comfortable for me. I want to care for my babies. I don’t have to go outside especially in winter time. In Winnipeg, it’s very hard to go outside. With English Online you can learn from home, it’s free and you can learn even if you only have one day in a week that is free”
Not scared of anything
Asked about her progress in her English studies, Puja said “When I first came to Canada, when my husband tells me, ‘go there and ask something’. I say ‘no I cannot go, you can ask.’ But now I can go and ask. I’m very confident and not scared (of anything) anymore.”
“I like learning online because everything is comfortable for me. I want to care for my babies. I don’t have to go outside especially in winter time. In Winnipeg, it’s very hard to go outside. With English Online you can learn from home, it’s free and you can learn even if you only have one day in a week that is free,” she added.
From barely no English, Puja can now carry on conversations and find out things for herself. She has even shared her online learning experience with her friends. “I have other friends who are like me, who have kids and they want to improve their English and they can’t go to class in school. I tell them ‘no, I’m also at home and I learn English. You can also do this and you can benefit,’” she said. She has since convinced two of her friends who are now also attending online English classes.
“Learning with English Online is good for everybody. They provide good information, the teachers are nice,” Puja ends the interview with a smile.
When Rahwa was a little girl, she was known for always being in a rush. “I remember when I was young, whenever they would send me and my younger brother to get something from the store, it took my brother an hour to go there and come back. It would only take me a few minutes because I was very energetic and fast,” she said.
Today, she is defined by the same energy and quick action. She is a woman in a hurry. After landing in Manitoba two and a half years ago, she has taken several courses in quick succession all the while taking care of her twin boys as a single mom. In her classes, Rahwa says, “I’m always the first to finish my tasks. Even if I miss classes, I am able to make up for everything I missed. I don’t procrastinate,” she said. Her teachers are amazed that she is able to submit all her work and on time. Just last week, the first comment on her evaluation at university was “quick to act”.
But as an English language learner, being in a rush is not always a good thing, as Rahwa discovered.
“There is someone to ask about how to do things. She gives me pointers and shows me that I’m getting better. Somehow I’m getting used to writing now because I know the structure. Irina made me focus because she asks me to write a lot of things. So now when someone tells me to summarize something, I know what to do. I can see that my writing is a little bit better, so that’s a thumbs up for Irina. This is a big motivation for me.”
Upgrading her education and language skills
Rahwa came here through a cousin’s sponsorship in April 2017. She is originally from Eritrea but moved to Uganda to study. She lived there for eight years before moving to Manitoba. Rahwa studied computer science and worked as an office and accounting assistant prior to coming here. After she landed in Winnipeg, she spared no time learning about her new environment and the opportunities open to her. With her cousin’s younger sister sometimes looking after her boys, she went to Manitoba Start to attend some courses. She also took IRCOM’s Saving Circle and Transportation Loans workshops, as well as a program to help her review for the driver’s licence exam. After this, she took an empowerment course for women and mentorship courses at Taking Charge! Inc., where she upgraded her high school education, helping her move up to university. Rahwa is now taking a Web Development course at the University of Winnipeg.
Rahwa doesn’t have much of a problem speaking English but her writing needed improvement. “I always make a lot of mistakes. Teachers correct me but I just keep doing it. I don’t know why,” she said. So in August last year, she took a language benchmark test at WELARC and was referred to LINC Home Study. In two weeks, Rahwa was attending Blaine, Amrita and Iryna’s classes at English Online. She was also paired with e-Facilitator Anastassiya and then Irina for one-on-one instruction. “Irina is really helping me. I can’t even tell you all that she has done for me. Remember I told you about my writing mistakes? For example, I’m supposed to write in past tense but I write it in present or sometimes I used two pronouns instead of the subject. These are little things that she noticed but these are big, big things that are helping me,” Rahwa beamed.
“I also see that when I’m in a rush, I could make mistakes. When I write a paragraph, I don’t go back to it again. Irina told me, ‘you write and then sleep on it. Then come back to it the next day and work on it. Then you will be able to see mistakes and rectify them.’ Now I’m doing that but whenever they give an assignment I still do it quickly on the same day. But then I would have time before the deadline to revise it,” Rahwa said.
Back in her home country, Rahwa learned English on her own. She read a lot of books and was always reading online. When she got an e-Facilitator, she saw how vastly different it is learning with a mentor. “There is someone to ask about how to do things. She gives me pointers and shows me that I’m getting better. Somehow I’m getting used to writing now because I know the structure. Irina made me focus because she asks me to write a lot of things. So now when someone tells me to summarize something, I know what to do. I can see that my writing is a little bit better, so that’s a thumbs up for Irina. This is a big motivation for me,” Rahwa said.
“I like learning with EO because first, you can learn at your convenient time and in your comfort zone. Then, there are also so many topics and from these, you expand your vocabulary. I was also lucky to study with both Amrita and Iryna. Iryna has multiple ideas and she would share them with me as if we are the closest of friends. I used to speak slowly and with a lower voice. People would say ‘again?’ or ‘pardon me’. Maybe I was speaking with a lower voice because I lacked confidence in myself. Working with them, I can see that it has polished my communication skills and I have gained more confidence when speaking,” Rahwa added.
Prepared for settlement challenges
Asked about her settlement journey so far, Rahwa confidently said “To speak honestly, I did not have any challenges. Before coming here, people were scaring me, they were saying ‘oh, it’s winter time, it will be very hard to move with your kids’ or ‘you would not be able to go to school there because no one will look after your boys.’ Because of this, I just prepared myself. I said, if it’s winter, I would have to dress well, bundle up and eat well. The first year I was bundled up wearing four to six layers. The second year I was down to two layers. I just adjust to these things.”
She did admit to one major challenge. “When my boys are sick, that’s the only challenge,” she said. You can’t always rely on your friends or family to take care of your kids. They may say that you are taking advantage of them,” she said. Rahwa prioritizes on the well-being of her four-year old sons but ensures that she is able to catch up with her studies. She is a dedicated mom who is so proud of her well-mannered kids who continually inspire her to achieve success. “They are helping me achieve all this. They are good listeners, they have good manners. Because of them I am able to go through this intense course. I look forward to the time when I’ll be working and focusing on taking care of them” she said.
Advice to other newcomers
“Take time to study English. Some might think that when they come to Canada, it will be like grabbing money from trees. You have to work for everything. When they come here, they should not rush. Learn the English language, find a part time job. If they couldn’t find a job, focus on full time studies and upgrade their education. Have a plan and some goals. Some people who come here just earn their money and send it back home. They don’t invest in their studies. They may think it’s tiresome to study a language but learning is important,” she said.
“I told some of my classmates at the university that I am learning online and I recommend it to some of them. And they say ‘no I don’t need it’. You might think that you don’t have time and you don’t need it but we all need to improve our English. We need to know the Canadian style. I tell them that if I, a single mother can do it, you too can manage,” Rahwa said.
She came on the screen smiling and fresh-faced. Sawsan greeted me warmly over Skype and I felt a positive connection. She confidently talked to me as if she had been speaking English all her life.
Amazing, considering that she came to Manitoba just less than three years ago. Sawsan, her husband and baby boy arrived in Winnipeg in November 2016 from Turkey. Having been displaced by war in their native home Syria, she and her family, including their extended families, have been living there for two years before they moved.
Although they didn’t exactly choose Manitoba (as refugees, the government chooses for them), she is thankful that she came to such a welcoming place. “Manitoba is so friendly, it’s so good for families because you can connect with other Syrian families like us or with Canadian families. They are so helpful to us! We have had some Canadian neighbours who were so friendly. A couple even took us to dinner and to the Forks. They are wonderful!” said Sawsan.
“Now I know my weaknesses in my pronunciation, sentence order and a lot of things. I thought my English was good enough but I realized that there was more to learn. I would make mistakes and didn’t realize it. Jill teaches me how to handle every mistake. I am still learning but I feel that I am so confident now with speaking.”
Settling in Manitoba
In their first few weeks in Manitoba, she and her husband became all too aware that they were now on their own. Despite the welcoming community they settled into, they could not help but yearn for the presence of family who were all overseas. “Living without family was worrying. Another thing was raising my children (she also now has a daughter) in a very different culture. That is why we always call my mom, my siblings and siblings-in-law , and we do video calls. I want my children to see them, to know our relatives and to feel like they are close to us,” she said.
Language was another major challenge for Sawsan. “I was lucky that I had a little knowledge of English when I came here. I would say that I could manage, but it was not as good as I speak now,” Sawsan said. “That was my greatest concern – how I can learn and how fast I can learn because I was very ambitious. I felt that I had to learn everything on the first year,” she said.
“One of the first things we did was go to WELARC to get our language benchmark. Then I went to MOSAIC to study for five months from January to June 2017. When I got pregnant (my due date was in November) MOSAIC didn’t accept me because I didn’t have time, just two months from September to November. So I researched a lot on how to study because I still wanted to learn English during my pregnancy and after giving birth. This was when I learned about English Online and LINC Home Study,” she remembers.
Sawsan registered with EO and was paired with an e-Volunteer EAL e-Tutor. “I had 10 sessions with my e-Tutor Anna from Toronto. She was very helpful. We talked a lot. Then I applied to LINC Home Study and in April 2018, I started to study with my awesome instructor Jill Hart, she beams. “Now I know my weaknesses in my pronunciation, sentence order and a lot of things. I thought my English was good enough but I realized that there was more to learn. I would make mistakes and didn’t realize it. Jill teaches me how to handle every mistake. I am still learning but I feel that I am so confident now with speaking,” said Sawsan.
She adds, “LINC Home Study with English Online is very flexible. We can book a class anytime and we are relaxed because we study at home. We don’t have to go out in the chilling winter and I am with my two kids. It also doesn’t take a lot of time. I study five hours a week and I can see that I improve.”
Sawsan is a holder of an Anesthesiologist Assistant degree from Syria. She had just finished her course and was volunteering at a public hospital when the war broke out. Now, with her English studies getting further along, she is planning to upgrade her education after she completes her LINC. “I am looking for options to study again in a university or college. I don’t have a specific course or school yet but I want to get a Canadian degree and then get a job,” she said.
For now, the young mom is taking things step by step and is slowly but surely reaching her goals. In the meantime, she continues to enjoy beautiful Manitoba which she says “has a lot of sun! Even in chilly winter there is a lot of sun. It gives you energy even when you are at home,” she said. “Summer and spring here are awesome! This summer we went to a lot of places like Gimli and Winnipeg Beach. You’ll find a lot of things to entertain yourself here,” she adds.
Tips to other newcomers:
Reflecting on her experiences so far, Sawsan pauses and shares a few tips for other newcomers like her:
- “Everyone who comes here should have a partner. My husband and I always remind ourselves of our goals. We think about what we have achieved and what we would like to achieve. This kind of support is very important especially for newcomers who don’t have family in Manitoba. Life won’t be easy if we didn’t support each other.”
- “Try and do things yourself. Try first and then if you can’t do it, ask for help. This will give you a good experience – you will find your strengths. Don’t rely too much on other people’s help.”
- “Be positive. I know it’s hard since we are away from our families. But it is important to be positive all the time especially for our children and for the community. Entertain yourself and go outside. Go to the beach in the summer. In winter, try and find what is good out there. There are a lot of activities you can do in winter. Winter is so long, you have to do something. Don’t just sit in the house thinking about your relatives.”
Raimner was on a short break when he spoke to me on Skype. He was on a tight schedule – studying in the morning at Robertson College and then going to work in the afternoon, with most of his free time spent on classes with English Online. I had 30 minutes to speak to him before he leaves for work.
It is plain to see that Raimner is driven. He was at the top of his career as a software engineer back in Cuba when his family got the opportunity to immigrate. Having been part of the generation that lived through Cuba’s “Special Period” (this was around 1989 to 1991 when Cuba was hit with economic and political crises that led to food shortages and lack of basic commodities) he and his wife were determined to give their daughter a better future. “It was a hard time in our country, I remember that basic things were lacking. People were riding bikes every day to go their jobs. I put up with these years and although it started to get better around 1994, I don’t want her to experience what I had gone through. That was the main point to come,” he said.
A series of fortunate events
Raimner and his family arrived in Manitoba in 2016. They considered a lot of options prior to moving to Canada with places like Toronto, Quebec and Saskatchewan on their list. Raimner spoke to a lady who told them that there were fewer applicants to Manitoba, so they did.
Upon arriving, Raimner quickly learned that English was a necessity. “I had no English when I arrived. My wife had pretty good English so she was the one who started looking for a job and going through everything like going to Manitoba Start,” he said.
Eventually, Raimner did go to Manitoba Start and WELARC and was referred to MITT (Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology) where he started taking English classes. Then he started looking for jobs. Raimner looks back on this experience as one of his hardest challenges. “A lot of people were saying that there were lots of jobs to do but it was hard when you don’t have experience. They ask you for experience but because you’re new you don’t have experience – it’s kind of being trapped in a bubble that you don’t know how to get out of,” he said. Luckily, Raimner met a person who ran a renovation business. “He gave me an opportunity and I am so thankful to him. I was working within two years and it was so special for me. He hired me, taught me English and how to do renovations. I feel blessed because this guy appeared in my life out of nowhere,” Raimner said.
Meanwhile, he continued to persevere with his English studies. He was with MITT until it stopped their program for learners with benchmarks above 4. He then enrolled at the University of Manitoba’s paid programs in the evenings. It was through his wife that Raimner discovered English Online. “She told me, start with English Online. First, they gave me e-Tutor Sonya from Calgary. She was so good. I studied with her for a month and it was such a good experience. Then I applied to LINC Home Study. I have my instructor Jill right now and she’s amazing!” he said.
“In my opinion, learning English using EO is one of the most indispensable tools that we have to achieve our goals and establish ourselves in the Canadian society. I think EO is really good. I truly recommend EO because it’s fantastic – the flexibility that they provide you, the good teachers that they have. It’s a very good option so I truly recommend to everyone.”
Learning with English Online
“Before, I took some Coffee Chats with Blaine (amazing guy!) and also with Yuliana. I enjoyed the Coffee Chats but I felt like there was not enough feedback for me. So I applied to LINC,” Raimner said. He was paired with LINC Home Study instructor Jill Hart in January 2018.
“I can say a lot of things about Jill but the thing that I love about her is that she doesn’t hesitate to say that you are doing something wrong. She tells me what I need to improve on. She sends me videos and gives me exercises and then checks a lot of things – that’s what I love. I don’t get angry because that’s the way you learn. At first you do things wrong and then someone tells you that this is the right way to do it and then you learn from it, he said.
Raimner adds: “Aside from this, I like studying with EO because it is very flexible. Right now I’m under pressure because I have to go to school in the morning and work in the afternoon. Sometimes I call Jill and I say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t have a class today’. In her lovely manner she would say ‘it’s ok, let’s reschedule for another day’. That’s what I like, it’s so flexible. You can have your class after work or whenever you have time to do it,” he said.
“In my opinion, learning English using EO is one of the most indispensable tools that we have to achieve our goals and establish ourselves in the Canadian society. I think EO is really good. I truly recommend EO because it’s fantastic – the flexibility that they provide you, the good teachers that they have. It’s a very good option so I recommend it to everyone,” he said.
Busy but loving it
Life may be hectic for Raimner right now but the future looks bright for him and his family. “I have been improving my English – things are going slowly but surely. I’m looking to establish a career as a Network System Administrator and I’m really on it. I want to be working in an office like I used to in Cuba and providing all the knowledge that I have,” Raimner said.
Soon he will be embarking on another important milestone in his settlement journey. “I am working hard not only for my family but also to have a better society and improve our country, Canada. I have already applied for Canadian citizenship which is another step. A lot of things are going on in my life but I am happy. I like being busy like this,” he said.
Raimner continues: “Since birth, we have faced challenges all the time. First, we learn how to walk and at first it’s hard. Then we move on and try to learn how to ride a bike or how to speak, and later on maybe to fall in love. All of these are challenges and we go through the process of learning. I think immigration to Canada is just like one of these challenges in life. So I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the teachers that I had – Yuliana, Sonya, Blaine and especially to Jill. EO is a great tool, it gives you all the resources and the information to be ready for this challenge.”
“I think that the best thing about Canada is that you can start over and over again. You have a wide panorama here and the view is wide open. Don’t be discouraged if you are not in your field of expertise because maybe you can be valuable in another field and you don’t know that. Write your history in Canada again!”
These are inspiring words from our featured newcomer, Alfredo. Prior to the interview, I did a bit of research and learned about his professional achievements. Aside from his impressive work history in sales and engineering back in Colombia, Alfredo began his career in Canada in 2017 as the Business Development Manager for Latin America for UltraSpan Technologies Inc. (UltraSpan is a company founded in Winnipeg that provides products, equipment and technology to precast producers all over the world). Then last year, he moved up to the position of Business Development Manager for International Markets. Not a small feat for someone who has been here for only about two and half years. When I met him for the interview, I was eager to ask him about his success secrets. What I discovered is an inspiring story about overcoming challenges through a positive mindset and commitment to lifelong learning.
From Colombia to Calgary then Winnipeg
Alfredo’s immigration story did not begin in Winnipeg. They had family in Calgary, so together with his wife and three daughters, they moved there in 2016. Unfortunately, they arrived at the height of the recession. They had a difficult time looking for jobs. “We noticed that a lot of people were being laid off so although we had good education and professional experience, it was difficult for us to compete with English-speaking professionals with Canadian experience,” he said. After about 6-7 months of a rough job search, an opportunity opened up for Alfredo in Winnipeg, so they moved.
“To be honest, I didn’t know much about Manitoba but we took the chance because of the job. It was rough for us at first because of the weather, but something strange happened – we started to fall in love with the city and the people. They are very friendly, very open. We decided to stay and we’re enjoying it here now,” Alfredo said. He added “My wife and daughters have settled here and they’re doing great. Also, we got our very first house in Canada a month and a half ago. Considering that we have been here for a little over two years, it’s amazing! I think Manitoba has very good conditions to settle and to get a very decent job here.”
“The good thing about this program in MB is that you can learn English while you’re working. You can practice your English at work in the day and then at night you can learn grammar or other language skills. In my case, my work demands that I travel abroad. Even then, I can still work on my English lessons and study. It has a certain level of flexibility and I think that’s the great advantage of this program.”
Professional opportunities and the language barrier
Just like other newcomers, one of Alfredo’s first challenges was the language. Back in Calgary, he started with a LINC Program at Maple Leaf Academy. “First, you have to know the language for them to believe you (that you can do the job). The only way to do that is to be able to communicate your ideas in English. To be honest, I think I’m very lucky because my job is to cover Latin American markets, something that I did in the past. I still speak Spanish when I go there. This gave me a chance to have a job very fast and without getting licensing for my studies. So my path was very short compared to other people who first needed to learn English or validate their studies,” Alfredo said. However, he realized that he needed to continue improving his English if he wanted to expand the markets that he can cover. So when he came to Winnipeg, he continued LINC with English Online.
“The good thing about this program in MB is that you can learn English while you’re working. You can practice your English at work in the day and then at night you can learn grammar or other language skills. In my case, my work demands that I travel abroad. Even then, I can still work on my English lessons and study. It has a certain level of flexibility and I think that’s the great advantage of this program,” Alfredo said.
“My instructor Karen is an expert in Canadian English and that’s very valuable. You’re learning ways to say the things here in Canada; you learn proper pronunciation. There are also a lot of topics that are relevant for us on the platform. For example, how to buy a house here in Canada, or how to volunteer, or how to apply for a job. The platform also has idioms that are used here. At first, you might not get them. But as soon as you hear a person mention one, something clicks in your mind and you say, ‘hey, I learned that idiom from the platform! Now I know in what context to use it,’” he adds.
Alfredo has been with LINC since 2017 and by the end of the year, he will be ready to take the exit test. He is looking to get CLB 8 in all the four skills, which is the maximum level for a LINC student. As early as now, he is already planning on taking other language courses to sustain the momentum. “I’m trying to get a pronunciation course or some communication coaching. I’m also thinking of joining the local Toastmasters Club,” he said.
Aside from this, Alfredo has not lost sight of getting his degree recognized in Canada and then continue studying something entirely different from engineering. “I think that the good thing about Canada is that you can start over and over again in different fields. Maybe I can study history, or something absolutely different that is not about numbers or engineering,” he said.
Tips to newcomers:
Alfredo shares his secrets of success:
- Don’t limit yourself. “We are all very capable. Please do not diminish yourself thinking that ‘ah I don’t speak English I’m not very valuable.’ I don’t think so. We need to have self-confidence and know that we can do it. It will take time to learn the language but you definitely can do it. This is something you need to overcome in your head and say ‘ok, maybe my English is not 100% accurate or my pronunciation is not the best, but it doesn’t matter’. What matters is that I can convey my ideas and express myself. Work on improving your language but realize that Canada is a wide open country for immigrants. People are friendly and open. They will give you a chance. It’s up to you to launch yourself, to shoot with whatever you have.”
- Get involved in the culture. “Listen to music, go to concerts, listen to the news, read books – try to enjoy that because it’s part of the experience. Try to get friends from here. Talk to people. Share your culture with them. That will give you the chance to express yourself and at the same time share who you are. For instance in my case, everybody asks the same kind of question (something related to drugs/cocaine). I know that it is very discouraging to talk about it but this is the chance to say ‘you know what, Colombia is not that, Colombia is this and this. It is very interesting!’ And people will value that. They will tell you ‘oh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that’. Maybe you can convert that person into your friend and even travel together to Colombia.”
“Language is a barrier for sure. But more than the language is the way you handle it – for example how to express your ideas in a polite way. I come from a Latin American culture and we have a different way of expressing ourselves. You will notice that some people from my culture look like they are fighting but they’re really just talking, they’re exchanging ideas. People here are calmer. They get their point across by being eloquent not by arguing. If the point is related to some rules, ok, those are the rules and there is no point in questioning them. In my country, that doesn’t work. So you need to change your mindset and you need to understand the culture.”
- Start again. “This country is giving you a chance to start again, to do anything you want to do. Don’t be stuck with the idea that ‘I am an engineer and so I have to be an engineer.’ Think out of the box. If you’re an engineer, maybe you can open a company here, or maybe recruit people in engineering. Canada is a good country to start over again. Learn English, start a new profession or pursue different goals. In my country Colombia, this is not easy to do because it’s not easy to change your career. If you study engineering and you become an engineer, you’re going to be an engineer forever. Here in Canada, they will give you the chance to change your path.”