Newcomer story: Sana Naveed Ahmed

Natalia and Margarita with SanaIt was an excruciating experience for Sana. In her halting English, she recounts her appointment with an obstetrician in Toronto. The first time mom remembers that when the meeting started, she found that she couldn’t quite express herself fully in English. Her husband had to step in and speak for her. Sana realized that English was so different in Canada! The accent and the speed at which people spoke confused her. It was frustrating for her to just listen and nod when she knew it was an experience for her to tell. But because of this incident, she vowed that she will do her best to hone her English skills.

Toronto, Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie

Sana‘s husband owned a gas station in Toronto. They got married in Karachi, Pakistan in 2011 then she applied to immigrate to Canada the following year. In 2013, while waiting for application results, she applied for a visit visa and was granted one. She remembers arriving in Toronto at the height of winter in January. “I was so excited to see snow and experience my first winter, but I didn’t expect it to be so cold!” Sana said.

Shortly after, she became pregnant with their first child. Sana recalls that it was not an easy time for her. Aside from being dependent on her husband since she couldn’t speak English very well, she was on visitor visa and was not eligible for health care coverage. She said that her husband had to spend so much for her check-ups and her delivery (via Caesarian Section). After giving birth, the couple decided that it would be best if they lived with their close relatives in Manitoba. They sold the gas station, packed their bags and moved to Winnipeg in 2015.

While in Winnipeg, Sana wanted to get back on track with her English lessons so she took classes at MITT. She also attended free English as a Second Language (EAL) sessions in church. When her husband got a job in Portage la Prairie, they moved again. It is a great blessing for them that the Portage la Prairie Learning and Literacy Centre (PLLC) is just five minutes away from their new home. She finally became a Permanent Resident in February 2016 opening up more options for free newcomer services.

Despite having moved so often, Sana does not regret coming to Manitoba. “I see that it’s more multicultural here. I don’t hesitate wearing my Salwar Kameez, our traditional dress, because I see many women wearing it. There are also more mosques where we can gather together. I’m more comfortable here,” Sana said.

Learning English as a priority

Talking to Sana, you could hear how determined she is to learn English. For her, learning the language means being self-sufficient and productive. It is also the key for her to practice her profession in Manitoba. “I have submitted all the requirements to be registered and licensed in Physiotherapy. They have accepted my credentials (she has an MA in Physiotherapy). I need to take the IELTS and achieve an overall band score of 7 or better. Then I can write for an exam leading to licensure,” Sana said.

To prepare for IELTS, Sana continues to study twice a week at PLLC. To supplement her English classes, her instructors at PLLC told her about English Online (EO). “I have taken online workshops, virtual coffee chats and the Summer Course. Learning with EO is very convenient! No need for child care, no need to travel, and the lessons are useful. I don’t only learn English, I learn about Manitoba and Canada as well. I joke with my relatives back home that I now know more about Canada than my home country,” Sana said. She continues to study intensively for her IELTS test which she will take in December of this year.

Tips for newcomers

“Definitely learn English before coming to Canada! That should be a priority,” Sana said. She regrets not knowing about newcomer supports like English Online before coming here. Aside from learning English, Sana underlines the importance of having a good support system. “I am lucky that my husband helps me. He is my support. He takes care of our young children (she gave birth to their second child in June) when I want to concentrate on studying” she said.

Aside from these, she also shares the following tips with her fellow newcomers:

  • Learn how to drive and get a licence. You will need your own car, especially if you have young children.
  • Know about free settlement supports and English language lessons before you come to Canada. This will help you immensely in your preparations for settlement.
  • And finally, never give-up! Don’t lose hope. Be patient and always persevere with learning.