“Dance is in my soul. You know us Mexicans, once we hear music, we have to dance (makes a gesture with her hands as if she’s dancing)!”
This made us laugh as we wrapped up the interview. Gabriela was going to attend “Aqua Zumba” later in the day and she was excited about it. She explains “it’s a fall program that the RM Gimli runs for eight weeks and it’s amazing because you hear music, you dance, and you are in a pool. There are only 10 spots in the class because of the pandemic. But in the summer, we held it in an outdoor pool here in Gimli.” Hearing her describe the program made me wish there was dancing in the pool in my area too.
As you can imagine, Gabriela is the kind of person who is bubbly and full of life. Aside from her work and English studies (and Zumba of course), she told me how gardening, camping with her husband in Manitoba’s beautiful parks, working out (she showed me her home gym) and cooking great food fills her days. In her five years in Canada, she has learned that you need to find time for the things you enjoy and make you happy to live a good life.
From Guanajuato, Mexico to Gimli, Manitoba
Gabriela moved to Canada for love. Her husband is a born and bred Manitoban from a small town called Komarno. She moved to Gimli in 2015 to join him, leaving behind a successful career in human resources and her bakery business in Mexico. “When I got here, it was not easy. I had to start from scratch. I am just so lucky that I have the support of my fabulous husband and his relatives who embraced me as a part of their family,” she said.
She also realized that she needed to refresh her English skills since what was taught in Mexico was very basic. “What we learned from school was the same every year. There’s the past tense, present tense, and all that. English is very different once you’re in Canada,” she said. This limited her job prospects but because of her can-do spirit, Gabriela found a job right away after she had her work permit. A local bakery hired her immediately after she told the owner all about her successful business in Mexico.
“It is a pleasure to learn with Irina and Yini. The weekly lessons are delivered through the internet and it’s very personalized. They are also cheerful, motivating and accommodating. When I need to re-schedule, they are always very understanding. This makes me want to do better in my studies.”
Discovering settlement services
After two years of working in the bakery, her employer unfortunately had to let her go. The business was seasonal and they could not afford to keep her. It was then that her husband told her about the Manitoba Jobs and Skills Development Centre which provided employment assistance. A staff member there helped update her resume to the Canadian format. She also took a language test at WELARC where she learned about English Online. “I didn’t know that these services existed and I could learn online. English Online appealed to me because I live in the country, I didn’t have to travel. I don’t like driving in the city,” she said.
With her newly-tailored resume, Gabriela applied and was hired by the Gimli Seniors Resource Council Inc. It’s a job that she is proud of because it allows her to serve the community and do something she loves – cooking. “The opportunity to cook different things and be part of this amazing service to bring food to the seniors makes me feel so happy and so part of the community,” she said.
She also enrolled in LINC Home Study with English Online to improve her English skills and to be able to eventually apply for citizenship. “It is a pleasure to learn with Irina and Yini. The weekly lessons are delivered through the internet and it’s very personalized. They are also cheerful, motivating and accommodating. When I need to re-schedule, they are always very understanding. This makes me want to do better in my studies,” she said.
Gabriela is already reaping the benefits of her diligent studies. “Since learning online, I feel confident about speaking to others, not just to my husband. I like talking to the seniors at my work and checking up on them. Even my friends have noticed how much my English has improved,” she shares. She is optimistic that she’ll reach her goal of getting a CLB score of all eights (for the four skill areas) as she continues to persevere.
Another support service she discovered was assistance for her spousal visa application. “I was browsing through Facebook and saw that the Immigrant Centre can help us file our papers for spousal visa. I was very impressed with all the resources. They helped us with the translations for all the documents that I needed to submit. That was awesome because I didn’t need to hire a lawyer. Now, I tell everybody about all these amazing services,” she said.
Manitoba is my home
Recently, Gabriela had to deal with another major development in her life. She was diagnosed with diabetes about three months ago. But as a testament to her resilience, she is able to deal with it in a positive way.
“Changing my diet was a big challenge for me. But after these months, I am doing very well. I think this experience has made me stronger. It made me realize that I have to change and stay active to have a good quality of life,” she said. It also made her appreciate Canada’s health care services. “Health care is very good quality here. It’s very complete,” she added.
This is why after five years, Gabriela can say that she has adapted well to life in Canada. She shares that she could not imagine living anywhere else. “I think Manitoba has everything, it has a great landscape, very friendly people, and with the local shopping I can do here, I can find my ingredients – tortillas, peppers, cheese, chorizo – and make the flavours that make me happy. I don’t have to miss them,” she said.
However, she does miss her friends and family back home. “I have a small family but we are very close. Being far from them is one of my biggest challenges. Being here means I am missing a kiss from my mom, a hug from my sister and not seeing how my little niece is growing up. Adapting here does not mean you forget your family and friends in your home country. You should always maintain communication with them. Awesome digital services help a lot in keeping close connection with our loved ones who are far away,” she said.
“I know my country is wonderful in so many aspects but I think that the quality of life here in Canada is 10 times better. When my friends ask me when I will go home, I tell them ‘I am home’,” Gabriela said. “This experience made me realize I have accomplished so many goals in my life here which helped me reinforce my self-esteem. Starting a new life at 45 is not easy but it is so rewarding,” she added.
Tips to newcomers:
- Prepare before you move here. “Know all that you can about jobs, services and resources. Be ready mentally and physically because the weather is going to be challenging mentally and physically. You also need to be ready to start a new life and leave the past in the past.”
- Be open -“You need to embrace different cultures. The people here in Gimli, I’m happy to say, are non-racist. They are very open. This makes me so happy to live here.”
- Follow the rules – “In my culture, sometimes some people don’t follow the rules. But you need to be aware that in Canada, the people are very nice but you need to follow the laws very well. If they say you cannot drive without a license, you don’t do it. If they say you need to have insurance, you need to have insurance.”
- Enjoy life -“Try to have different hobbies. Meet different people. Don’t be afraid to speak to people. At the start, it can be hard because they may not understand you but sooner or later, if you keep on practicing, you’re going to improve. Don’t speak only your native language. When you communicate with more people, you will be able to adapt better.”
- Ask for help –“If you don’t understand something, ask for help. Don’t do it all on your own. The government funds these wonderful services to help immigrants so that we can start learning and working right away.”