A Newcomer's Journey to Calling Canada Home

Jan 31, 2022

Katarzyna moved to Canada from Poland with her husband and their children. Her husband works for a well-known international company that offered him a career opportunity in Canada. They considered the move to Canada as a good time for their children to learn or improve their English, to explore this vast country and to experience its culture and a different way of living.  

Once they decided to accept the job offer, they only had two months to uproot their home in Poland, pack their belongings, say good-bye to their friends and family, and move to Canada. Those last two months in Poland and the few first months in Canada must have been a very exciting and hectic time, full of promise and expectations. After a period filled with various activities around settling into their new home, enrolling kids into a local school, applying for new documents and so on, Katarzyna found herself at home alone, while her kids were at school and her husband was at work. She says the loneliness kicked in, and this was the hardest part of the transition. There is an unavoidable sense of loss when one leaves their home, their extended family and friends. She sometimes cried.  

Katarzyna started applying for jobs and found it to be a very frustrating experience. In Poland, she had a fulfilling career that she built over 13 years of working for an NGO. Back there you had one resume with all your skills, work experience and so on and this resume was sent to all the jobs one wanted to apply for. In Canada, this was not the case. She learned quickly that she needed to tweak her resume and cover letter to adjust it to each individual job application - a time-consuming and seemingly bizarre process.  

When I asked her what the hardest part of this transition was, she said that she and her husband had prepared very well for the move, so she was surprised when she started to feel lost, to feel like she did not belong. She lost her confidence, and never thought that she would feel so lonely. Katarzyna is very social and not having a social circle was unexpectedly hard. The hardest moment during this transition was not passing her driving test. This was the moment that she lost her self-confidence.  

To put this in perspective, Katarzyna has 20 years of driving experience not only in Poland, but across Europe. It is easy to hop in a car and drive through Europe even for weekend trips. She would often drive through Europe for business and vacation. Most European cities have busy, narrow, curvy streets with limited parking space. Katarzyna didn’t think there was even a possibility of not passing here. 

As previously mentioned, she didn’t pass her first driving test and this shook her confidence considerably. To Canadians this may seem like ‘standard procedure’. In fact, I told my daughter recently not to expect to pass on a first try. We are immune to this. It’s just how it is. But to a newcomer, these well-known localized practices carry an entirely different weight and meaning. 

One of her children, a high schooler, settled in fairly quickly. He attended a bilingual school in Poland and was already fluent in English. He was also a competitive swimmer, so he was able to transition fairly easily and quickly.  

Her youngest child was only 10 at the time, and had not yet learned much English. He struggled with not being able to understand the language in school, making friends and fitting in. His transition was not so smooth and he was frustrated. Katarzyna remembers sitting with him for two months, helping him with school work, translating assignments and videos and working on English.  

Aside from the language difference, the education system is so vastly different here that it was hard to adjust to. However, she fondly remembers his ESL teacher at school, who was very focused and determined to help her child find friends, learn English as fast as possible and feel good about himself. She will be forever grateful for her support. Her son approached learning English very seriously, and in retrospect it did not take him long to become fluent. He is now an expert in grammar who is also no longer willing to speak Polish.   

The first year as a newcomer was about letting go of what you knew, and feeling confident with learning how to live again, albeit differently. Some things made sense and some didn’t.  It was like following a pre-determined path where you just pushed forward, ticking off the boxes for the tasks that had to be completed. But it felt nothing like home.  

In year two, things changed. By this time the kids had adjusted to their environment completely. Because Katarzyna spoke enough English and was fluent in Polish, she managed to land a job that required her to use both languages. She learned about ELT programs offered by Centre for Skills to improve her English, but was not eligible to enroll as she was here on a working visa and not as a permanent resident or a convention refugee. However, she was eligible to enroll in our Newcomer Conversation Circle that was held in a local library once a week.  

This is a free program for newcomers who are looking to connect with others, practice English and make friends. It was exactly what Katarzyna needed. She met other newcomers and quickly learned that all of them missed the social connections they had left behind in their home countries. Katarzyna said she feels lucky to have joined the Newcomer Conversation Circle group at that time because the people she met there are still her close friends today.  

At that time the class was held in person, so the newcomers were really able to connect, to stay together after the group session, to go for coffee and to build friendships. This new ‘friend group’ was made up of newcomers from France, Turkey, Brazil, Poland and Peru. On the surface, they had nothing in common. Different situations brought them to Canada. They all faced different challenges. But they had each other to rely on for information, and support, and for sharing experiences only immigrants could understand. 

When Katarzyna talks about these friends her eyes light up. Even though the program ended long ago, they still get together once a week, now online because of the pandemic, and because one of them no longer lives in Canada. Katarzyna said this program was what really helped her start to feel like Canada was becoming home. 

I asked her how long it took for Canada to start feeling like home. She answered as if she had an exact number of days in mind: “Three years.” Looking back at my immigrant experience, I would say she is absolutely right! 

Today, Katarzyna is a permanent resident who completed the ELT program with Centre for Skills. She is a woman with a full-time job, a part-time school, a busy schedule, and a roster full of old and new friends. She is a busy mom who is expecting a new baby, and has recently become a Community Connections Program volunteer at Centre for Skills. She says:” Canada feels like home now!”