Newcomer Story: Chokri

Man wearing sunglasses with a slight smileIt was a good day to talk to Chokri. He just got the results of his language test which showed that his skill level has moved up to intermediate in speaking. To think he had just started learning English a few months ago, it is indeed an achievement worth celebrating.

When he arrived in Manitoba in December last year, he couldn’t understand English. He could laugh about it now, but he would just say “okay, okay” whenever bus drivers spoke to him even if he didn’t understand them. He did this because drivers would usually repeat what they’ve said and he still couldn’t understand. He quickly realized that learning English was necessary for everyday life. He also didn’t like the prospect of being dependent (his wife had to accompany him everywhere he went) so he resolved to study English immediately.

Francophones from Tunisia

Chokri and his family are from Djerba which is a lovely island in the southern coast of Tunisia, a North African country. French is widely spoken there, so he already has one official language under his belt. “In Tunisia we didn’t speak English in society. We are Francophone. Our local media is also in French or Arabic,” he said.

Chokri and his wife have advanced degrees and are experienced professionals in their respective fields. In fact, his wife recently got hired at the University of St. Boniface where she will start teaching management and finance in September. Meanwhile, Chokri will also be entering the same university, but as a student (Baccalauréat en éducation). Despite having 26 years of experience in the academe – teaching physics and chemistry for 25 years and serving as a Vice Director for a year – he needs to be certified to teach high school. Nevertheless, he is looking forward to the process and does not consider it a challenge. “Challenge is a big word. Really, I am always optimistic. Anyway I have the education and experience. And now (by studying with English Online), I have online experience. As long as you are determined, I am sure that you’re going to succeed,” he said. “I have no intention of leaving my career. I love teaching and helping students. It is a noble profession and I believe that educators play an important role in society,” he added.

Before school starts, he is maximizing his time learning English, taking care of his kids (the couple has two teenagers), and learning more about his new home. While things are complicated because of the ongoing pandemic, he is still able to discover new things about his environment. “When I arrived, we didn’t have a car. I took the bus for grocery shopping. The temperature was -20, which I have not experienced in any other country. After three months, I discovered that it was possible to call a taxi to take groceries to my house. In my country, if you call a taxi and take it for a short distance, some drivers will not be happy. Then later, a parent of my son’s friend told me about delivery. It’s a good idea and I was happy with this suggestion. This advice was a small thing but it made us feel that we are not alone. However, in many cases we didn’t choose delivery because we could not see what we were buying. And it had to reach a certain amount (minimum order is about $70). So we still went to the stores, by bus or any means. This way we get exactly what we need. I hope to succeed in getting my driver’s license soon but in the meantime, we can ride our bikes in summer. It’s great because we also get exercise and we see the beauty all around us,” he said.

“I learned that when learning English, you need to focus on SMART goals. I plan and choose the suitable process of learning to get results. So I began by learning the basics of listening, reading and speaking. And then I will focus on writing skills as a long term goal. I attended all of the classes to help me and I can see that I have improved based on the evaluation”

Learning English online

“I wish I had known about English Online earlier,” he said. Chokri was first referred to a face to face EAL class at River East Transcona (RETIS). When the quarantine started, he didn’t want to reduce his time learning English so he was referred to EO’s Live & Learn program.

At first, he had a bit of difficulty because he was not used to online learning. But when he got used to the technical aspect, participating became a breeze. “I attend all of the classes of Blaine, Pam and Nastashya. I don’t do all my homework (laughs) because I’m busy but I always participate fully. I really want to progress. I just wish I had more time. So for now, I prioritize and use my SMART goals,” he said. As a testament to his diligence, he relates his experience with Blaine, one of our instructors: “I think on the first day, Blaine asked me to write a short introduction about myself. What I did instead was write my entire history! So I think this is why Blaine remembers me and recommended me for a story,” he said with a chuckle.

“I like the complementarity of all the events,” he continues. “I feel that the designer of these courses saw to it that the courses go together – I mean that you can’t take just one and not attend the others. There is complementarity even in the way they deliver the courses,” he said. “I think your work online is innovative. It’s very interesting. You have the potential to have more students because of technology. And I think you’ll have a lot more opportunities to help students during this time of pandemic”, he added.

The educator also shared how he learned how to maximize his time. “I learned that when learning English, you need to focus on SMART goals. I plan and choose the suitable process of learning to get results. So I began by learning the basics of listening, reading and speaking. And then I will focus on writing skills as a long term goal. I attended all of the classes to help me and I can see that I have improved based on the evaluation,” he said. Another proof of this is a recent achievement. He was able to go to a doctor’s appointment on his own. “Three months ago, I would never have thought that this could happen. I would have needed my wife’s help for this. I can now communicate with my doctor and I was very happy. But I know that there is still a lot of work that I should do. English vocabulary is very rich and I should choose the best way to preserve the level I have now,” he said.

Because of his progress, Chokri sees that his prospects have expanded. “The first possibility is to have the certification to start working as an auxillary (assistant) at one of the high schools. On the second year, I can get my permanent certification and start teaching. Another possibility for the long term is to progress with my English and finish my certification. In this case, I can work at any school, whether Francophone or English,” he said.

Beautiful Manitoba and Manitobans

Chokri and his family are taking advantage of the good weather to get on their bikes, see the sights and learn more about their new home. “We love Manitoba’s wonderful rivers and lakes. We love its overall landscape. It’s very beautiful. But more than the rivers and lakes, we like the people of Manitoba. People are friendly and helpful and this is very important when you’re a newcomer. Our neighbor has this sign in their garden that says ‘No matter where you come from, you’re welcome here.’ This touched my heart. To me this is significant because it makes us feel safe and supported,” he said.

He ends the interview with this advice: “My advice to newcomers is not to waste time. Try as early as possible to register to English Online and make your time at home productive. Diagnose your own linguistic needs and then set your SMART goals. Ask your facilitator’s help and choose the right learning program for you. All the tools are there for you to use and succeed.”

Being the thoughtful person that he is, he also took this opportunity to thank those who have been helping him in his settlement journey. “I would like to thank you and the entire Live & Learn team especially Blaine, Pam and Nastashya who are extremely friendly, helpful and efficient. I am also grateful to Valeria from the Immigrant Centre, and the River East Transcona Immigrant Services Team and my EAL teacher Angie Anns who provided fabulous help during the difficult period of COVID-19. They were helping us even before the pandemic and so we never felt alone. I would also like to thank Manitoba Start, Pluri-Elles, CDEM and especially Accueil Francophone for their services before departure and during our first months after our arrival in Winnipeg,” he said.