Author Archives: Rae

A Distance Travelled

MC40_compass2I first came in Canada as an international student in 2003. I came here out of my curiosity about foreign counties and my destination was Saint John, a small city by the Bay of Fundy. Ten years ago, not many Chinese were in Saint John and I stayed with a Canadian family as a home stay student.

The first thing impressed me after I arrived in Saint John was that I suddenly realized that I was a Chinese. I am different than the people around me. They are Canadians and I am Chinese. I didn’t have this feeling when I was in China because all others were Chinese too.

Then I started to think what the differences are. Gradually, I found the differences are anywhere! For example, Brian, my homestay parent, asked me for a dessert after a traditional Chinese meal I cooked for him. The disappointment on his face after I told him that there was no dessert after Chinese meal made me even felt I did something really terrible. Hey, it is a big deal for Canadians, the dessert! There are hundreds of examples to show the culture difference, especially between the East and the West.

For the first several years, all I saw were the differences between me and other Canadians. That made me homesick and it was a hard time. However, with the wisdom of age and time, I realized that all the differences are facts and they will be there no matter I like it or not. Also, on the other hand, we have more similarities than differences, which is more meaningfully for me to discover and to pay attention. Fundamentally, we all grow old and have to die someday; we all have sicknesses from time to time; we all often have to say goodbye to the people we love and we all sometimes have to do what we hate to do. We are more the same than the difference. I am very glad that I discovered that and from that day with this conclusion, Canada became my home.

Not much can tell with current space limit but there are a lot to share. I love Canada and I feel good living here!

- Xin in Saint John, NB

-Image:  ©EdArias


Where Are You From?

MC40_questionmarkI was five years old when my parents came from Canada. They were refugees from Pakistan. One year after we arrived, my brother was born. Another year passed and my sister came along. In those early years, I never knew what identity was but I did know that I was different.

Growing up as an immigrant child was hard. The first question I was often asked was “where are you from?” The easy answer was Pakistan. It was a part of me. Besides, I thought living in Canada was difficult. I was bullied for being a “Paki”, my protective parents didn’t allow me to go to sleepovers and movies and my clothes smelled like the Pakistani spices my mom used in our traditional food. I was caught between two worlds and didn’t know how to reconcile them.

I am not sure when it happened but sometime during my elementary school years, saying that I was from Pakistan was no longer the easy answer to give. My memories and life in Canada became more familiar.  My parents encouraged me to celebrate and contribute to my new home and remember the one I left. I remember attending my Citizenship Ceremony and excitedly telling my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Burnett that I was now a Canadian.

I volunteered at an MPP’s office and had my first trip to Ottawa where I called my mom from the Peace Tower at the Parliament of Canada in awe of where I was standing.

During my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, I began to travel during the summers. Working abroad in various communities, I was asked the same question I had been asked in Canada “Where are you from?” I answered, “from Canada”

The next question was “Where are you really from?” In frustration, sometimes dismay, I would answer, “I was born in Pakistan but I grew up in Canada”. I was very proud of my Pakistani birth and early years but I was also very sure that my home was now Canada.

In 2009, my family decided to go back to Pakistan. I was excited and nervous. Before we left Canada, I remember thinking no one will ask me where I was from – I speak fluent Urdu, wear the traditional shalwar kameez and will not stand out in a crowd.

When we arrived in Lahore, I went out with my family and ordered a chana dish from a street vendor. I just started to eat it when a woman’s voice behind me quietly asked “App kahan se hain?” meaning “Where are you from?”

I couldn’t believe it. Not here!

I was born only a few hours drive from Lahore in a town called Sargodha. I told her I was from Pakistan. She wasn’t convinced and asked again.

I said, “I was born in Pakistan but grew up in Canada.” We struck up a conversation and talked about our lives in different parts of world. I couldn’t help but think of the person I would be if my family had never left Pakistan. When I arrived back in Canada, I was overwhelmed by that unexplainable feeling of “home” when I saw Toronto.

Today, I still get asked where I am from. To say that I am Pakistani-Canadian is the easy and the right answer to give. I may have been born in one part of the world and relish in the few memories I have but Canada is my home. Together, the two places have made me who I am and for that, I am grateful.

-Sadia in Mississauga


Old Trees & Weather Talk

MC40_OldTreeI am from Liberia, a small West African country. The last time I checked, my country was still recovering from 14 years of civil war after electing Africa’s first female president.

When you leave Liberia to settle in Canada, it won’t take you long to recognize the many differences in culture. Many Liberians back home would disagree with me because we believe that our culture is closely linked to North America since the country was established by free slaves from America. But it was quick for me to notice that our assertions are wrong.

Beside my country of origin, I have lived in three different countries on three different continents within the last decade. Canada is now the fourth. Given my experience, it was easy for me to identify cultural differences. What wasn’t easy, though, was for me to adjust to the change in culture. This confirms a saying in my country that “old tree can’t be bind easily”.

The two years I have stayed in Canada, I have struggled with calling older people by their first name. If you think about community wherein seniors are the largest age cohort, than you will understand what I have to go through daily. But this is not a problem for my 8 year old daughter who moved to Canada when she was only 20 months. She can easily call an elderly person about the age of her grandmother by their first name. I keep on reminding her that where we come from this is not allowed. We believe that name calling is the first step in showing “respect”. So handles are attached to names depending on the age gap and status. Therefore all the parents in the neighborhood are either uncle or aunt. To avoid calling first names, I approach people without calling their name which at time looks awkward.

Also, I quickly noticed that pets, be it cat or dog is an integral part of many households. I admire how pets are treated with dignity and respect. I often wonder the cost of raising a pet, and feel sorry for the thousands of people in my country that live on less than a dollar a day. Where I am from, dogs and cat are treated differently. Anytime, my daughter tells me she wants to be a Vet, I wonder if she would have said had she grown up in Liberia. Because Vet is not a career a child in Liberia will dream about since animals are never taken to vets. Besides, I can’t remember seeing a section in the groceries store for pet food.

What I admire most about the people of Atlantic Canada is their hospitality and how approachable they are. It amazes me how people initiate conversation by talking about the weather. They often go like this, “we have a good day today”. This kind gesture, for me, breaks all communication bearers and creates a platform for communication.

 - William in Saint John, NB

Weathering Change

MC40_snowI landed from Osaka, Japan to Moncton, NB. I came to Canada because my wife is Canadian and from Moncton.  I went to the French LINC course there.

Although I already spoke English fluently when I came to Canada there were days of struggling with English awaiting me, along with French.

After 6 months living in Moncton, my wife and I moved to Ontario, due to job reson. We lived there for 2 years and 2 months. It was different from New Brunswick. I went to English LINC course there.

It was winter when we moved to Ontario. Speaking of winter , where I originally came from we have only few days snow. It was tremendously shocking for me to see the amount of snow and thick ice. It was scary. All I thought about was “Why am I here?”

I only lived in Saint John for 19 days now but I think I like the good mix of culture here.

I certainly have been home sick quite bad and have experienced some hard days coming from cultural differences as well but I can comfortably say that I am glad that I came here because I experienced something that I could not have experienced back home.

- Shigeki in Saint John, NB

- Photo Credit:  Fred Chartrand, The Canadian Press


Starting from Scratch

images-2Hi everyone,

My name is Sophie and I am from France. I arrived in Canada last october, 2012 in Saint John. I remember when I arrived, everyone used to ask these questions:

“Oh, you are not Canadian? (because of my obviously french accent), You are french, from Moncton, Quebec city? From France? Really?! Why Saint John?”

It seems impossible that a french girl pick Saint John as her first destination in Canada. Well I used to answer: “I just add my master in France and it was a perfect time for me to have my first experience in a foreign country, outside my comfort zone, in a different language but in country in which I can still feel like home.” It was really funny how people was amazed that I was a “real french”!

In fact Canada was for me, before I arrived, a foreign country but really similar to France . And well it’s completely different!!

First you think the french language is the same, but not at all…You think you will find the same kind of food, but not at all, and finally you think we share the same “culture” but again it’s really completely different!

This country is really big, the size of the car, the road, the trees, the house, even  the food and packaging!

As a french person I will take the example of food.

If you go to a restaurant, the portion is really big. But it’s ok if you don’t have to finish your dish you can take a doggy bag! You will never saw this in France. Poor Canadian people who are coming to France, the country of good food, and will leave the table still starving!

Again, in a supermarket, the proportion of the aisle are not the same. The aisles of vegetables are really minor, but the chips, pizza, coca cola, frozen food, sugar, junk food are twice bigger than France. I remember I was looking for chocolate tab to make my own cake. I asked a person from the shop and he showed my the “ready preparation cake”, I said no I want to really bake my cake, he told me really? But with that everything is ready? He was not able to find me what I was looking for. The culture of food is really different!

But after a better understanding of the living style, the weather, enjoying also the good part of food like lobster, Canada is a great country in which you can start a new life. Anything that you want to be, you can try in Canada, and that’s why I fall in love with this country.

Welcome to Canada!

- Sophie in Saint John, NB



A New Home & Seafood Too

lobster_fishing_boatsMy name is Jian and I came to Canada in August of 2010 with my family. Saint John was our first stop and we did not know where to settle and where is our new home at that time. After one week stay in Saint John, we decided to settle here. There are lots of reasons for us to make this decision, including:


1) People in Saint John are very friendly, especially to newcomers.

2) There are not heavy traffic here and you have less chance to meet heavy traffic.

3) The climate here is better than any other cities in NB.

4) You can eat more fresh sea foods because it is seaside city.

Anyway, People are friendly is the most important reason for us to live here. After two days’ house hunting, we bought our house. Lots of friends cried that we had made a crazy decision but we never regret our decision. We are living a good life here and my daughter likes the schooling very much. Surely we try different sea foods very often.

This is my short story. Although it is not interesting, it is really true.

 - Jian in Saint John, NB

Warm Despite the Weather

MC40_UNBI came to Canada in 2007 to study at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, I had no family here and the culture was completely new to me not forgetting to mention the weather. I quickly felt at ease due to the friendliness of the people of Saint John who were quick to embrace me as one of their own. Settling in was a very smooth process, and it felt like I was home away from home.

The Multicultural and Newcomers Resource Center here has played a huge role in my life here. You get to meet people from all walks of life, and appreciate the different cultures around you. I have since graduated and I am now working for a company I love thanks to the multicultural center. I am glad I came here and decided to make this a second home for me.

 - Victoria in Saint John, NB

Freedoms & Friendships

MC40_PatternSquare07aI am from Bangladesh. I born in a small city called Pabna. We are 4 people in our home (Mom, Dad, my brother and me). Being born in a Muslim family, I grew up with lots of restrictions. I never traveled anywhere without my parents. In my second year of University, I told my dad I want to go to abroad to continue my study. At first I thought he would never allow me to come all by myself. Finally he said, if you get the visa then he would let me go. This is how I end up coming to Canada.

I was really excited as I was going to experience snow for the first time in my life. Very first day of the school, it was storming. I probably fall couple of time on the way to school in that day. The cold was unbearable for me. Still I found it was fun to cope up with the weather. The most beautiful thing I enjoyed after coming here was the environment of the school. Everybody is so welcoming and helpful. I was involved with different cultural club in the school. That gave me the opportunity to meet lots of friends from different part of the world. I am so blessed to have my two best friends whom I met at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. One is from Canada another one is from UAE.

After I completed my graduation, I was involved with the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Resource Center. Here again I meet lot of people from different region through different activities. So after I have moved to Saint John, I had the opportunity to learn about different culture, food and I am enjoying it every bit of it.

 - Nazma in Saint John, NB

From the House I Grew Up In

Saint_John_New_Brunswick_CanadaThose that know me know that I’m from Saint John and actually live in the same house that I grew up in. A self-proclaimed “typical Saint Johner,” I grew up in Saint John, studied in Saint John, and worked in Saint John. My first international experience was, like so many here, a trip to a resort in Cuba. Little did I know that shortly after that trip, my world would change.

About a month after that trip, I was hired at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John campus) in the International Office. They must have really liked what I had to say about the Cuban culture because at that time, that was it for any multicultural experience. I remember on my first day thinking that this was going to be so crazy, working directly with international students, because I didn’t have any multicultural background and, again, had never really left Saint John. By the end of the first day, though, I knew that I had found my passion.

Over the next 7 years, I had the opportunity to meet students from all over the world. I took private lessons in Korean and Mandarin. I attended every multicultural event on campus. I studied and completed my Teaching English as a Second Language certificate and tutored international students. (I still keep in contact with many, including my first student, Yuki from Japan.) I also had the opportunity to travel as part of my job at UNBSJ and I visited 11 countries in two years. I learned so much during this time (including the fact that the world is so small…..after having met a man from Sussex, NB, teaching in Chile!). Although I do not work at UNBSJ anymore, I am still quite close to a number of international students – many of whom have graduated now. Some have moved out of the Province, but many are still in New Brunswick, including Vicky from Kenya who graduated and now works full-time at the Royal Bank.

Through her work, Vicky has met many people who know me (which is not too hard b/c, again, I have been in Saint John all of my life) and she always tells people what I did for HER. Little does she know what SHE has done for me! I continue to learn so much from Vicky and others; my passion for multiculturalism never waivers. And, it is, no doubt, because of my love of international students like Vicky that I took a position – I was one of the first two people hired – to start the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Resource Centre, where I still work today.

- Mary in Saint John, NB


What’s In a Name?

512px-35_Vietnamese_boat_people_2Starting in the late 1970’s, I was actively involved in welcoming refugees from Vietnam – the “boat people” as they were then called  – settling them into their new lives in Edmonton.  My particular area of involvement was with children and I got to know many of the families very well.

One day the father of two little boys approached me and asked if I might give his sons more English-sounding names.   My own opinion was that they might want to keep their names in order to hold onto something familiar in this new place.  But their father was adamant.

Thinking about it now, I realize that the father and I were both treating names as a cultural symbol – their father wanted names that would help his boys fit into this new culture, and I was thinking about their names connecting them to the culture they had left behind.

I took the matter seriously.  Mulling it over on a trip through the Rockies a few days later, I hit on two names that were as close sounding as I could come to the names they had arrived with.

Over the years I have observed and marveled at the will and determination of these Vietnamese families to put down new roots, work hard and thrive in their new home.   I wonder how Ian and Neil have fared with the names they were given as they launched into their Canadian lives.  I hope they’ve served them well.

- Mary in Alberta

- photo credit:  Refugees awaiting transport in fishing boat;  PH2 Phil Eggman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons