This is Us: The Newcomer Experience (A.Z)

The series will feature interviews conducted and written by Kristen Allen about newcomers arriving and living in Canada.

About the Interview

This series features the responses to questions about arriving, adjusting and living in Canada. There is also a portion where participants share what they would like you to know. Except where edited for clarity, all responses are in the interviewee’s own words.

For this interview, I would like to introduce A.Z., a 23 year old student who is currently completing her graduate studies in Computer Science. She has lived in Canada for 7 years, and her first language is Spanish. In this interview, A.Z. speaks about her experiences moving to Canada, and shares her advice to other newcomer youth. 

What was it like when you first arrived? 

I first came to Canada at 14 for 3 months, and then again 8 months after when I was 15 years old. Both times I came alone, but during my first visit I was just taking some English classes and seeing what life was like here. During my second visit at 15, I enrolled in school and started Grade 11 in Canada. I was alone at the time and stayed with a host family. It was a big change to adjust to, I didn’t know when I was going to see my family again and I wasn’t used to being apart from them for such a long period of time. And even though I already spent 3 months here in Canada, this second visit felt more permanent. I was moving, and it was a very tough time. 

I also found it difficult to understand people at times. I wasn’t comfortable with English yet, and it was challenging to understand if someone was upset with me or being offensive, and all those different nuances. Because people in high school would speak like they were screaming, I didn’t know if they were screaming at me or if they were just teasing me. It was a challenging time. 

What are some experiences that you remember that made you feel welcome and where have you found community (online activities, school, etc.)?

I found my first sense of community in high school. I met great friends, who were patient with me throughout what felt like a transition process. I think I was lucky to meet the friends I made, they would help me if I didn’t understand something, or if I was having trouble with something specific – I’m still friends with these people now. Even with simple challenges, like not knowing how to approach a teacher, my friends would be there for me and provide help. They really made me feel welcome, which came as a surprise to me as a student starting school in the middle of a semester in a place where I didn’t know anyone. I may not have known much English, but the people I came across and made friends with made things that much easier. 

What advice would you give to like a newcomer youth in a similar situation?

To not be scared of asking questions – I remember spending time stressing one question, and trying to find the answers myself. Being unafraid to ask questions helped because you can’t learn without asking questions. I remember being afraid to not phrase my question correctly, and feeling embarrassed. But it’s okay, because if you’re learning – it’s a good thing. There are plenty of young people who come here at a young age, who are also trying to figure the same thing out – you are not alone. 

When you come here with your family, or your partner, you come as a team, and as a team you can try to figure things out. But for people like me, who came here alone, it is important to learn to be unafraid of talking to the people around you (at school or at work) and ask questions. Because chances are, there is someone they know who has been through something similar, and they might be able to help you work through something or connect you with someone who can help.  

Is there anything else that you'd like to share?

One thing I would like to say to people who come to Canada as a teenager or in their early twenties – don’t rush into it. You don’t have to be settled immediately, the culture shock is huge, and we all adapt differently. There is lots to learn, but don’t let the challenges stop you from pursuing what you want. Take this adjustment step by step, and try to reach out to people, go to community centres, and talk to your counselors. I spoke to my guidance counselors at school, but I found community agencies are more suited to help with the cultural transition.   

There are lots of different perspectives people share. Some people have said ‘Oh, you are coming to a new country and you're trying to learn the culture, you shouldn't be friends with people who are from the same background as you’. Thinking you won’t adapt as well if you don’t meet new people. But I feel differently about this, having friends from your community can make time more bearable and the transition smoother. Sometimes, you just need to express yourself without a language barrier or difference in customs in the way. It’s in the small things, like the way we kiss each other on the cheek to say hello and goodbye back home. The small things you learn not to do with just anyone here.  Friends from similar backgrounds can really help you see the similarities and differences, and help you navigate the transition as they have experienced similar things. 

It may feel like you have to grow up really fast – but remember your goals. When I first moved here, I wanted to go home thinking I could not do this, but it wasn’t true. I needed to believe in myself, and I think it’s important for people, especially at a younger age, to remember that you will get to where you want to go. Just be patient, and keep your goals in mind. It will help.