If you ask Walter why he and his family moved to Manitoba he will say that it’s for their children. During their exploratory trip to Winnipeg, he saw that his three kids would thrive in this city with its pleasant and open spaces, parks and good schools. Today, two years after they made the decision to move, Walter is finding that not only are his kids thriving, but himself and his wife as well.
Walter, his wife, kids, their dog and cat arrived in Manitoba in 2016 from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He remembers his initial encounter with the city’s climate. “When came out of the airport door, it felt so cold. It was two degrees then. After our first winter here, I can now say that two degrees is just like summer,” Walter said laughing.
Aside from the weather, there were a lot of other things the family needed to get used to. He worried about how his kids would adapt to the culture and the language. He also worried about finding a doctor, buying a car or getting a job. He recalls a time in their first few months when they were trying to decide which milk to buy. “I saw that there are a lot of options here! There was 2%, 5%, 5.5% . . . so we tried each one and threw out what we didn’t like until we found the right one,” Walter said. “I realize that you start from zero here. Not only in finding a job or learning English, but in everything, like food, culture, friends,” he added.
He quickly realized that that not knowing enough English was a challenge when he actually lived here, compared to when he was just visiting. “When I arrived in Winnipeg, I could only say “hello”. It was so hard for me because I love to talk. I love knowing people. The only way I could talk was through my wife. That part was very hard,” Walter said.
“Studying with EO was perfect for me because I could study in the evening, in my home, in my couch, without shoes. I am in the basement and I could hear my children in the kitchen.”
He started studying English at MITT but later on, he saw that he needed to spend more time with his family. A friend told him about English Online and he decided to register. He emailed English Online’s volunteer coordinator Tatiana Nedelko and asked to be paired with an ESL e-tutor. He was first paired with Michael from Vancouver, and then later with Mary from Toronto, an arrangement that Walter liked. “I think is important to have different tutors from different cities. This way I hear and learn different accents,” Walter said.
“Studying with EO was perfect for me because I could study in the evening, in my home, in my couch, without shoes. I am in the basement and I could hear my children in the kitchen” he added. He also likes the fact that EO has so many volunteers from all over Canada who could teach at different levels. He now shares this positive experience with every newcomer that he meets so that they could benefit from learning from English Online as well.
Take little steps every day. Never stop
Walter worked as a project manager back in his home country. He was a quality services and procedures supervisor and was in the process of earning a counsellor diploma before he left Argentina. Today, Walter works at a flower company that imports from Ecuador and sells to cities all over Canada. On the day of our interview, Walter nearly begged off because he needed to take over his boss who had to leave for Europe. It’s evident that he loves his work. He is grateful that he gets to communicate daily with a lot people in his job because he can continually hone his English skills.
One thing that Walter advises to newcomers is to take advantage of job opportunities however small. He sees that it’s a great opportunity to learn Canadian work culture and English skills. He himself took a job in housekeeping at Delta Hotel and found that the close contact with the customers and other workers helped him improve his language and people skills. “I know it’s hard. You will not always feel happy. But as I always say, take it one step a day. Today, you work in housekeeping, but it is a step so that tomorrow you may get a better job. You never know,” Walter said. “My wife is a psychologist. She studied for a lot of years in Argentina and has lot of experience. When she got here, she worked in a call centre. And now, she has found a perfect job as a counsellor. She is very happy with her job,” he added.
Walter and his wife are already planning their next small steps in the following months. He will take his IELTS test in December and perhaps finish his Counsellor diploma. He is also looking to volunteer with English Online to add to his current volunteer job with the Argentina Manitoba Association helping new families who want to apply to immigrate to Manitoba. His wife on the other hand is preparing to start school to earn her Master’s Degree.
“I know it’s hard. You will not always feel happy. But as I always say, take it one step a day.”
Walter’s other tips:
- Never stop learning. Use all the resources the province is offering. There are a lot of programs you can get for free and there are institutes all over Manitoba. You can even study by yourself in your home.
- Take your time. It is not mandatory that you have a house and everything on your first year. If you feel pressure, you will lose your focus. Take little steps every day. In this country, everything is possible. You can work, study, you can aspire for anything that you want.
- It’s more comfortable to speak with people from your own culture. But I know from experience that if I speak only with Argentinians, my English will never improve. So I always talk to other people. I speak to my neighbours. And then I say, oh no, they speak very fast! But I try and practise. Maybe talk to people on the bus, or go by yourself to see the doctor.
- Open your mind and think that you could do it. Be true to yourself. Don’t feel afraid. Don’t feel ashamed. If you make a mistake, just say sorry. Or ask if you don’t understand. There are so many immigrants in Winnipeg. People are used to someone trying to learn English.
Finally, Walter shares this with other newcomers: “Winnipeg is special to families. So take things one step a day, make short term goals. Listen to all stories, not only the success stories, but stay positive. Always think about the future, always saying “I can do this” and work hard to reach your dreams.”