How To Make Friends: always say yes to good food and volunteering

Maple Leaf.PNGI am so happy to share with you a new guest bloggers contribution. Cheryll, one of our Community Connections volunteers, shared with us her experience immigrating to Canada as a young child. It is a motivational and inspiring post about overcoming challenges, getting to know your new community, and embracing new cultures! Enjoy 🙂 

When I told my grade-school teacher that my family and I were moving to Canada, she said “My sister lives in Toronto! Perhaps you could go visit her and say hi.” I said yes, that sounds like a great idea, to meet someone who is related to someone I knew back home. The only trouble was, we were moving to Calgary, Alberta – 3,400 km away. To many of us who come to this great country, Canada can seem overwhelmingly vast, not just in geography but in culture, language, food – and most heartbreakingly of all – family and friends. My first homesickness crying session hit me about six months after we moved here. I heard a song on the radio that I first heard back home and I started crying on the couch. I was inconsolable for hours.

What did we do in those first six months though? My mother accepted as many social invitations as she could take us to, from church gatherings (both from our own religion and others’) to neighborhood BBQs, to Stampede pancake breakfasts where we knew no one but hoped to changed that, to a relative’s cousin’s niece’s birthday party. She was looking for a job at the same time, and someone told her that volunteering would be a good way to get Canadian experience on your resume. So she volunteered at three non-profit organizations at the same time, and every time they held a social event, she took us to them too. She also asked me to volunteer sometimes, when they needed help. At one volunteer session, I sat beside an Economics professor from Lagos, Nigeria. He told me about growing up in Nigeria and going into his profession. I was entranced. I had never met anyone from Nigeria before, let alone a professor of a fascinating subject (yes, even at such a young age I found Economics fascinating!).

It would have been all too easy to find comfort from our loneliness by staying home or only spending time with other people from just our home community. There is no question that having these support systems help newcomers adjust to life in Canada. However, I’m grateful to my mom for her courage in going beyond that. In that first year, we met such a wide variety of people from so many communities and countries we’d never have been normally exposed to. I learned what a hijab was and when Hannukah is celebrated, I learned about cultures that were so foreign to my own experience, and I learned that English can be spoken in many different ways but that they are all equally important to try to understand. I also ate foreign food like kielbasa, tabbouleh, Alberta beef and dhal (not in one meal of course!). It gave me such great insight into how people use food to celebrate, to comfort, to grieve, but most importantly, use food to find a sense of community with those around them.

Those early experiences helped shape who my sister and I are today. We have friends that come from different countries – my closest circle is made up of people from Costa Rica, St. Lucia, Ireland, the Philippines, India and Brazil. We’ve volunteered for causes close to our heart, and we’ve traveled around the world and found the unfamiliar not so frightening. We are tremendously proud to be Canadian. If you are a newcomer who only recently moved here, or a newcomer whose family has been here for generations, or you’re one of the original Canadians, I urge you to look around and outside of your own communities to meet as many people as you can who have different experiences than you. You’ll come to appreciate that while this land is vast and can sometimes feel cold (figuratively and literally), we – the people who call this beautiful, amazing, country home – are closer to each other than you think! 🙂

What is YOUR story?

-Cheryll

 

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