Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A migrant's story

On my way home today, I met my elderly neighbour B. B was standing near a busy traffic junction, watching the traffic whizzed-by. 

As I passed by, I smiled and greeted her, "Good evening" and that became the opening for B to share her migration story.

B came to Canada 50+ years ago and has lived around the same area since. She originated from a Eastern European country, and shared that she came to Canada alone, via Austria. Her mother gave her this advice before she left her home, "Work hard and try to fit in."

When B landed in Canada, she did not speak a word of English. She went to a nearby fruit-canning factory and quickly got a job on the factory lines. She picked up the skills required on-the-job, mostly through imitating her colleagues. Not long after, she attended night classes at a Vancouver college to learn English. Time flies, she met and married her husband (also of Slavic-origin, but a 2nd-generation Canadian); moved in with her in-laws; had 2 girls; and is now a grandmother living in a 3-generation household.

This evening, B was standing at the road junction, reminiscing how that area used to be all farms, fields and undeveloped patches, and remarking about the changes to the landscape over the decades. As we parted, she advised me, "Take things as they come."


  1. We are the migrants and this hit me ,"Work hard and try to fit in". I need to overcome my inferiority complex and try to socialize and talk more.

    "Take things as they come". Planning too much ahead and desire to reach another milestone or small flag pole is taking a toil on me. Guess I have to ask for wisdom and grace to "Take things as they come".

    Thank you for sharing this story of this lovely migrant.
    The truth of sheer hard work, adjusting, learning and adapting!

    1. Hi Space,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your comment.

      I guess unless one is lucky to be rich or landed on one's 2 feet, chances are the doubts about making the choice to emigrate will creep up after some time when reality does not meet expectation. E.g. My blues at the 6-months milestone.

      As for chatting with strangers, I don't know about the norms in Australia. For newcomers to Metro Vancouver, one can easily start by greeting the bus driver upon boarding and then thanking him upon alighting. Smile and greet "friendly faces" passing-by and/or at the bus-stops, etc. Start small, and the change will feel easier. For most, talking about the weather is a safe topic.

      Good luck!

      Cheers, WD.

    2. "Talking about weather is a safe topic" sounds like a plan~~

  2. Thanks for sharing with me your blues too and showing that I am still same and thinking!

  3. Winking Doll : Its the same in Melbourne We greet and thank the bus driver here too and treat them with respect.

  4. Hi WD,
    There are a lot of stories like B's. I have a good friend from Yugoslavia, who came to Canada as refugee more than 25 years ago. He came with very little but made full use of the social services available to migrants at the time, got himself a job and then an education. He's now 45 years old, had a good job in the IT industry and happily married. He tells me about how he got his first job and his experience as an immigrant who could hardly speak English.

    There are many social services in Canada available to help new immigrants get jobs and get integrated. Immigrants need to take the initiative, be proactive, in making use of these social services; and have a positive attitude with realistic expectations.

    I live and work in Ottawa since 2007. Like you, I need to take the Canadian professional accreditation. Its like re-starting my career. I would say that I have been lucky in that I found an entry level job within 6 weeks of arrival. And while I worked, I did the professional certification course. And once I got my qualifications, I moved on to an professional executive level job.

    Unless you are a business migrant (aka rich), life of a new immigrant is always going to be tough. We need to adapt to the new environment, make new friends, for some learn a new language, find a job, etc all at once. For some, life gets better with time and experience, while others may lead a tough life for most part of their immigrant lives. And sometimes, the definition of "tough" is relative...depending on the person's expectations. A person may find life comfortable as long as he/she have a job which pays enough for them to survive. Another may find life tough, despite having a decent job, owning a home and a car.

    I enjoy reading your blog WD as you write about your struggles, your joys, your everyday life being a migrant. It is a realistic reflection of life.

    1. Hi Oblivious,

      Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your experience and thoughts. Thanks also for your compliment, I'm glad I have readers who enjoy reading my non-"high-flyer" life.

      It is so true that 'the definition of "tough" is relative'. I also find the definition of "rich" relative. Hahah!

      > Immigrants need to take the initiative, be proactive, in making use of these social services; and have a positive attitude with realistic expectations.

      I agree with you. Sometimes though, I feel the pain of the immigrants who did not realize this when they were newly landed, only to discover it years later but they no longer qualify for such social services/assistance (e.g. after switching Canadian citizenship).

      Keep sharing your thoughts. Thanks!

      Cheers, WD.