Newcomer Story: Priyanthi Waidyasekara

Priyanthi and her family came to Winnipeg in December 2014. However, it was a brief landing for her as she shortly had to go back to Sri Lanka because her son back home needed her help. It took three more years before she came back to Winnipeg to settle here for good.

Her first and second arrivals in Winnipeg were both memorable for Priyanthi. Enroute to Manitoba, she had the chance to go around and see some parts of the US, the UK and Toronto. She enjoyed seeing different places and was very thankful to friends who picked them up from the airport and toured them around different sites. But aside from the beautiful scenery, her experience communicating with immigration officers stood out in her mind. She remembers having a hard time answering their questions and filling out the forms in most of the airports they went through. “It was difficult for me to answer and I was confused,” she said. You could sense Priyanthi’s frustration when she told her story. During the interview, she paused several times to think of the precise English words to say. You just know that there are so many things she wishes to say but can’t exactly voice out.

“When I first came to Canada, I was scared to open my mouth to speak. It was difficult. Teacher Yini taught me to be confident with my English. Now I am not scared. I can manage to speak to other people”

Improving her English and learning about Manitoba

Upon her second arrival to Winnipeg, Priyanthi worked immediately on improving her English language skills. She went to Manitoba Start to ask about English classes. Because of chronic back pain which prevented her from travelling, she was referred to English Online (EO). “English Online is very helpful for me,” Priyanthi said, “I study at home. I don’t have to take a long bus ride (my home is far) especially when it’s cold,” she added. She enrolled in EO’s LINC Home Study six months ago and continues to be active in all of the classes.

“When I first came to Canada, I was scared to open my mouth to speak. It was difficult. Teacher Yini taught me to be confident with my English. Now I am not scared. I can manage to speak to other people,” Priyanthi said. “She is very helpful for me. She helps me improve my English language and she also tells me good information,” she added.

From barely no English Priyanthi is now able to carry on short conversations. She is steadily improving her language skills because of her consistent attendance and hard work. Now she is able to work as a teacher’s assistant in a Montessori school and volunteers with St. Ignatius Church. A few days before this interview, her back pain flared up again because she overextended herself while helping out in a summer course for kids. This points to Priyanthi’s dedication to teaching, a job she really loves.

Priyanthi has been a teacher all her life. Back in Sri Lanka, she was a dance teacher. She was also a Sunday School teacher to her kids and the children in her village. Her interest in psychology and religion led her to finish a Master’s degree in Theology.

Building a nice and peaceful life

Priyanthi remains optimistic about their future in Manitoba. She is learning English while her husband is studying Computer Engineering at Red River College. Meanwhile, her daughter recently graduated from post-secondary studies and will be entering university this year to study Engineering. She looks forward to a time when she could go back to teaching full time with better health and English proficiency.

“I came here without much English knowledge, but Manitoba Start and English Online helped me to learn. Everyone is very helpful and they build our confidence. So I say to other newcomers, don’t be afraid to come here because many people will help you learn not only English, but how to live well and peacefully. One thing that is very difficult is the cold weather. Winter time is very difficult. But when you get used to this environment, it becomes okay. Don’t worry about the weather. You can have a nice life. Study the language, learn how to work in Canada, get skills development and find a job. You can have a good life. Canada is a very good country,” Priyanthi said.