Newcomer Story: Nguyen Thi Hoang Dung (Dzung Nguyen)

Dzung Nguyen was among the first to answer my request for interviewees. I had posted an ad asking for “stories that would inspire and help other newcomers,” and for Dzung, whose life has been all about helping others, it was a call she could not resist.

A drastic shift

Dzung’s daughter had always wanted to study abroad. They were looking at schools in the US and UK, but they eventually set their sights on Canada. “We chose Canada because of the quality of education. Also, it did not cost as much compared to the other countries we were considering. Another reason is that educational credentials are recognized nationwide here,” she said. With many of their friends advising them not to let their daughter go on her own, they decided to move as a family. This was a decision they thought that would be best not only for their daughter but also for their young son. The Nguyen family arrived in Manitoba in March 2019.

Finding herself at home and taking care of everything for her family was the first challenge. At the time they left Vietnam, Dzung and her husband were successful professionals. She was working in the engineering, auditing and sustainability industries for major companies like P&G (Procter and Gamble), CSCC (Cal Safety Compliance Corporation), STR (Specialized Technology Resources), UL (Underwriters Laboratories), BV (Bureau Veritas), CCRCSR (The Center of Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility), while her husband was also in auditing and consultation. “I have 27 years of working experience. I was used to travelling for work and helping people and organizations in various capacities. Back home, we had helpers who would do household chores for us. My mom and sister would also help take care of the kids while I was at work. That’s why it’s a big adjustment for me to be doing everything around the house,” she said. But Dzung also saw their move as a chance to help her family and be close to them. “When I was working and travelling, sometimes I didn’t even have time to talk to them,” she said.

To ease her adjustment, she set out to learn more about her new environment by availing of settlement services. She registered with Manitoba Start, Immigrant Centre and OFE where she attended orientations and trainings in her spare time. It was also at MB Start where she was referred to WELARC for language testing. From there, she availed of language courses with EESE, Red River College and English Online.

“In your home country, you have the support of your family and friends. They come to you even if you don’t say anything. In Canada, nobody will come to you if you don’t open your mouth, meaning, if you don’t speak and ask for help. This is why it is important to learn how to communicate and be open”

“I didn’t know that I had an accent”

I noticed that Dzung already spoke English quite well so I asked her why she needed language training. She said that accent was her problem.

“I actually didn’t know that I had an accent although I have communicated with many native English speakers before coming to Canada. I also learned English with Vietnamese teachers and no one told me about my weird accent when I was in Vietnam. In Canada, I don’t think people have a problem with my vocabulary and grammar but they don’t understand me because of my accent,” she said.

So aside from attending Nastashya and Blaine’s drop-in classes, she also has one-on-one training with EO. “You probably understand me very well now because I have been working with Nastashya. I love that she meets with me every week and for 20 minutes we work on my pronunciation,” she said.

A very dedicated student, Dzung knows that communication is essential to successful settlement. “In your home country, you have the support of your family and friends. They come to you even if you don’t say anything. In Canada, nobody will come to you if you don’t open your mouth, meaning, if you don’t speak and ask for help. This is why it is important to learn how to communicate and be open,” she said.

“Be mentally and emotionally prepared”

Shortly before moving to Canada, Dzung shared that she had lost family members in immediate succession. Her mother and mother-in-law passed away a few months before they left for Canada then a few months after, her brother-in-law and her cousin died. One month after landing, her father-in-law followed. Then five months after, they received word that her sister was sent to emergency then passed away during the pandemic. She tells it matter-of-factly but you’ll notice that it weighs heavy on her. “I don’t know why that happened. I think about them often and I miss them,” she said. Despite this tragic loss, Dzung was able to remain strong. She says that this experience outlines the importance of mental preparation before moving to a new country. Newcomers should be ready to handle challenges without the usual support of family members nearby.

Aside from this, she advices newcomers to:

  1. Be financially well-prepared. Expect that you won’t have a job for the first three to six months. She says that newcomers should have enough resources to take care of themselves and their family so that they won’t have to worry during this period.
  2. Learn everything. Dzung has an analytical approach to settlement. She observes, gathers information/trains, then strategizes. For example, she first explored online option/stock trading which is in line with her business acumen. She took trainings and learned more about it. However, when she realized that advanced training would require a significant investment in time and money, she shifted to owning a digital marketing business. She said that the venture allows more flexibility considering that she prioritizes time spent with her family. She also sees it as a chance to help more people succeed in digital business.
  3. Help others. She assists family and friends back home who are interested in immigrating by giving advice. She tells them to consider the International Student path because it will allow them to earn Canadian credentials which will make it easier for them to get a good job later on.
  4. Be open. Dzung is used to dealing with various climates and cultures because of her extensive travels. She says that being open to new experiences will make it easier for newcomers to adjust and have a smoother transition in Canada.

Newcomer Story: Kirandeep Kaur Gill

My interview with Kirandeep had a few stops and starts.

First, she failed to show up for our Skype meeting at 10 am. She was eager about the prospect of sharing her story (she volunteered) so I thought perhaps she was having technical problems. I left a message telling her to send me a message when she’s ready.

After about two hours, she answered “Sorry, I was busy. I was outside from home” (sic). I thought, maybe she wants to reschedule? So I sent a message to ask. I saw that she was trying to type a response and then give up several times. Oh well, I thought, maybe she’s not interested anymore. I gave up on the interview.

After a few minutes, a message popped up. She said that she was nervous because her English was not good. She was worried that she might not be able to answer the questions. After I assured her that it will be just a short chat and that there are no wrong answers in this interview, Kirandeep got over her cold feet and we finally met up at 3 pm.

Kirandeep’s story

The first sounds I heard when she accepted my call were a child’s happy babble. Kirandeep’s baby seemed excited for the interview. When I said “hello” Kirandeep timidly said “hi”.

Before we started, I reassured her that she doesn’t need to worry about her English. I added that I can explain the questions to her if she doesn’t understand. When I asked her if she was still nervous, she said “So sorry, a little bit. I feel nervous when I’m talking to other people. Sometimes, I think English is very tough for me. I cannot understand it,” she said. However, she was willing to continue and see how a meeting like this would work out.

I learned that Kirandeep is a “new” newcomer even if she landed in Manitoba two years ago. She and her baby arrived on September 27, 2019 to join her husband who was already living in Winnipeg. They came from Moga district, which a quick Google search told me is one of the 22 districts in the state of Punjab in India. But after having barely settled here, she had to go back to her home country last year. It was supposed to be a short visit but because of the pandemic, she got stuck there for eight months. She was able to return only in April this year.

She became an EO learner just two weeks ago. She attends our drop-in classes while she takes care of her two year-old at home. “I started two weeks ago. I like learning with English Online because my English is not good. I don’t understand listening and speaking. Reading and writing is a little bit good. Listening and reading is my major problem. That’s why firstly, I take a CLB test but my score is very low. So that’s why I start a class,” she said.

“I want to say to newcomers that learning with English Online is good for everyone. Everyone can join the classes at home. We can easily learn English at home.”

“I like Winnipeg”

Isolation is a common problem for newcomers, especially for new mothers who have to stay at home while their husbands are at work. It is especially tough when you don’t know the language because it can stop you from reaching out to others. For recent newcomers to Canada, the restrictions due to the pandemic is an added challenge. This made it particularly hard for Kirandeep to explore her new environment and get to know others in the community. “I was not able to go around, go outside of my home because of COVID,” she said.

But despite this, Kirandeep likes living in Winnipeg. “According to me, Manitoba is the best city compared to other cities in Canada. We can easily survive. We can easily buy a house and other things”, she said. It is also admirable that despite barriers, she actively looks for ways to reach out (just like this interview) and continues to improve her English skills. “I want to say to newcomers that learning with English Online is good for everyone. Everyone can join the classes at home. We can easily learn English at home,” she said.

It’s a good thing that the government of Manitoba is starting to relax public health restrictions now as more people get vaccinated and COVID cases go down. This will mean more opportunities for newcomers to explore the province, meet other people, and to train and improve their skills. Most importantly, it can ease their isolation. In fact, just last Sunday, Kirandeep and her family were able to go to the beach. “I saw the beach in Gimli. It was my first time to go there. It is my first experience and I really enjoyed with friends,” she said. She also shared that she is looking forward to resuming her in-person language classes to supplement her online training in the coming months.

In the meantime, Kirandeep continues to learn with English Online to build her language skills as well as her confidence so she can eventually pursue a career. “My plan is to find work. That’s why I join the class so I can learn. In the future, I want to take a course because I want to be a teacher’s assistant. That’s why I want to improve my English, she said.

“You will publish my story?”

To end the interview, I told Kirandeep that I will be emailing the story to her to ask for her approval before we publish it on the site. She seemed incredulous and said “You will publish my story? But my English is not clear.”

I told her that her English was clear to me and that her story would be a great addition to the newcomer stories on our site.

“In my life, this is my first interview,” Kirandeep said. It is my good experience with you, I like!” she added. She also expressed her excitement over the prospect that her story will be seen by others, especially newcomers like her.

This was definitely the highlight of my day and all I could say was “Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kirandeep.”

Newcomer Story: Soledad Orcorchuk

Moving to a new country is tough. Now imagine going through it during a global pandemic. On top of your usual worries, you’d have to deal with cancelled or changing flight schedules, COVID tests, quarantining, isolation, etc. All these in your first few days in a foreign land. This is what Sole and her family went through when they moved to Manitoba. But despite this, she says that being here is a dream fulfilled.

A dream come true

Soledad and her husband Carlos are from Argentina. Before they had a child, they took regular vacations abroad, usually to the United States and Brazil. Sole remembers that they enjoyed their trips so much that both of them dreaded the thought of going home. “I think this was the thing that made us think about it (immigrating). We were spending most of our time living the life that we didn’t want and only 15 days in a year living the life that we want to live. We thought, ‘what are we doing?’” she said.

At this point, the couple remembered a friend who had been living in Saskatchewan for 10 years. She used to tell them about life in Canada. This started the string of events that would lead them to apply for immigration under the Skilled Worker stream. “It was a very long process but we were 100% sure that we would find here the life that we want,” Sole said.

“We thought that it was sad that we only lived the life of our dreams only 15 days in a year.”

It took five years for their application to be approved. By this time, they already had a three-year-old son. “We came here a year after the pandemic started. Maybe it was the wrong moment to come here but we had to leave our country. We went through a lot of things in our last days in Argentina but we know that everything was worth it because now we are living the life that we wanted to live and we are so happy,” she said.

Feels like home

Sole’s and her family landed in Toronto on March 15, 2021. They had to spend three days in a hotel for quarantine before they could travel to Manitoba. When they finally arrived in Winnipeg, they had to be under lockdown again for a few days. “We had to do another quarantine here but fortunately, we were in a beautiful and cozy Airbnb home so the time there was wonderful. We even had a backyard so my son could play. We are so happy to be here. It’s like a dream!” Sole said.

Sole is brimming with positivity but she’s not blind to the challenges that lay before them. Among her major concerns include improving her English, fighting off isolation, and as early as now, preparing for winter. Meanwhile, her husband was focused on getting a job as soon as possible (he is an Industrial Engineer who also has a degree in Administration).

It was a good thing that the couple already knew about newcomer serving agencies like Manitoba Start and English Online from their pre-arrival training from SOPA. With help from coaches from Manitoba Start, Sole’s husband found a job as a strategic analyst. Sole, meanwhile, enrolled in LINC Home Study with English Online so she can hone her language skills while taking care of their three-year old at home.

“With Ruxandra, I started learning in a different way. She is my support, but it’s up to me, my goals, and doing research. I like that part where I take responsibility about my improvement.”

“Back in Argentina I was most of the time studying grammar. I’m not saying that it’s not useful, yes it’s very useful but with Ruxandra, I started learning in a different way. She is my support, but it’s up to me, my goals, and doing research. I like that part where I take responsibility about my improvement,” Sole said. Her LINC HS instructor, Ruxandra Nicolescu, could not be more impressed with her commitment to her studies.

Sole adds, “I don’t have too much time to study. I need to find gaps (free time) for studying. I think that studying LINC is a good way to take advantage of those gaps being at home. So I 100% recommend it.” As she continues to make great strides in improving her communication skills, Sole also looks forward to getting more career training so she could get a part-time job when her son starts school in the near future.

Tips to other newcomers

Sole shares the following helpful tips:

  1. Practice speaking English. “Don’t be afraid about making mistakes when talking. Always practice. I talk to my neighbours, the cashier, even my son, and practice what I learned. Talk a lot and try to use new vocabulary.”
  2. Don’t stay isolated. “It is so important to talk to someone if you’re struggling with something because there are many people who are able to help. It doesn’t matter if they’re Canadian, Argentinian, or Chinese. So many people want to help.”
  3. Don’t forget where you came from. “A lot of people come to Canada and find a better life. I think it is important not to forget where you came from. In my experience, I love my family and I love that I was born there (Argentina) but there are so many things that I don’t agree with in my country. I came here thinking that Argentinian people felt the same. But when we came here, Argentinian people helped us a lot. During the quarantine, we weren’t able to go to the 7/11 to buy milk, for example. Many Argentinians came to my house with donations, with food for my child. They made us feel we matter. I started feeling proud. I had this idea about Argentina and Argentinians and I had to travel far to realize that Argentinian people are really good people.”
  4. Stay positive.
  5. Set short term goals. It will be easier to reach them. And at that point that you reach them, be confident that you will reach your next goal. But it has to be for the short term so you can reach it, touch it.”

It’s clear that challenges – the usual ones or the pandemic kind – could not dampen Sole’s spirit. In fact, she says that “sometimes, my husband and I can’t remember when we first arrived. It’s only almost five months but we feel like we have been here for more time! We feel that we belong here,” she said.