I moved to Canada around 2001 from a small village in Pakistan. Our life mainly consisted of walking to school and coming home to play in the fields. I was not used to modern transportation or technology. When we immigrated, my family was sponsored by my dad, who was already working in Canada at the time. The initial process took a long time, but what surprised me most was that we touched down in the new country within a week of its final approval. Our dad was the only one we knew in Canada; the rest of our friends and relatives were all still in Pakistan. It was challenging for all of us to say goodbye after seeing each other almost every day for more than 15 years. My grandparents' biggest fear when we started packing was that we would never return, and that we would forget the language and culture that had been passed on for generations.
Besides getting used to city life, the language barrier was the most difficult part of transitioning and adapting to this new life. No one from our family except my dad spoke English. I remember being too embarrassed to even ask for water on the plane ride over. Nonetheless, the flight attendants were nothing but kind to me and my family.
Once we arrived in Canada, I started grade 6 in the English Second Language (ESL) program. I remember moments of embarrassment because I didn’t understand what was being said. The most memorable of these situations was when we had a cultural day, and I did not understand that we had to wear our cultural clothing. I went to school in the same jeans and shirt as usual, only to see everyone dressed in beautiful and unique attire. I felt very embarrassed, lonely, and very isolated. Some friends and teachers offered to give me their scarves and makeup, but I was too embarrassed to accept anything.
Learning English and navigating so many differences took a lot of time and effort. I was fortunate enough to have accommodating teachers that were both encouraging and helpful. My teachers played the most significant role in making my transition to Canada easier. I remember first being introduced to the public library by one of my teachers. Since then, it has become one of my favourite places in the city.
My family was also a huge help throughout the whole transition process. We are a big family, and all of us going through this together helped each of us grow; it also made me feel like I was not alone. Even though there was the occasional ignorant person who made me upset or isolated, there were far more people who were nothing but accepting and supportive. The people here are very kind. There have been many people and friends throughout the years who helped us achieve our goals and helped make our transition easier.
As years went by, the language barrier became less of an issue, and we found the support we needed. Even though I did not get all the educational and financial aid I needed (I did not have the proper knowledge to find those resources), I make sure that my younger siblings have access to the resources I missed out on.
When I initially came to Canada, I was too young to know what to expect or have any goals, but as I grew, so did my dreams. I soon hoped I would get into university and work in the medical field. After all the hard work and dedication I put in, I now work as a medical assistant and I love my job. It helps me communicate with people who are in the same place I used to be when I first came here. Canada has given me so much: the most important of which is my freedom and sense of identity. Canada has given me the ability to dream big and make a home for myself here. I am proud that I am able to give back to Canada by helping others.
Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity
This story is a collaborative effort between Samia Qadeer and Saira Jaspal