Newcomer Story: Kirandeep Kaur Gill

My interview with Kirandeep had a few stops and starts.

First, she failed to show up for our Skype meeting at 10 am. She was eager about the prospect of sharing her story (she volunteered) so I thought perhaps she was having technical problems. I left a message telling her to send me a message when she’s ready.

After about two hours, she answered “Sorry, I was busy. I was outside from home” (sic). I thought, maybe she wants to reschedule? So I sent a message to ask. I saw that she was trying to type a response and then give up several times. Oh well, I thought, maybe she’s not interested anymore. I gave up on the interview.

After a few minutes, a message popped up. She said that she was nervous because her English was not good. She was worried that she might not be able to answer the questions. After I assured her that it will be just a short chat and that there are no wrong answers in this interview, Kirandeep got over her cold feet and we finally met up at 3 pm.

Kirandeep’s story

The first sounds I heard when she accepted my call were a child’s happy babble. Kirandeep’s baby seemed excited for the interview. When I said “hello” Kirandeep timidly said “hi”.

Before we started, I reassured her that she doesn’t need to worry about her English. I added that I can explain the questions to her if she doesn’t understand. When I asked her if she was still nervous, she said “So sorry, a little bit. I feel nervous when I’m talking to other people. Sometimes, I think English is very tough for me. I cannot understand it,” she said. However, she was willing to continue and see how a meeting like this would work out.

I learned that Kirandeep is a “new” newcomer even if she landed in Manitoba two years ago. She and her baby arrived on September 27, 2019 to join her husband who was already living in Winnipeg. They came from Moga district, which a quick Google search told me is one of the 22 districts in the state of Punjab in India. But after having barely settled here, she had to go back to her home country last year. It was supposed to be a short visit but because of the pandemic, she got stuck there for eight months. She was able to return only in April this year.

She became an EO learner just two weeks ago. She attends our drop-in classes while she takes care of her two year-old at home. “I started two weeks ago. I like learning with English Online because my English is not good. I don’t understand listening and speaking. Reading and writing is a little bit good. Listening and reading is my major problem. That’s why firstly, I take a CLB test but my score is very low. So that’s why I start a class,” she said.

“I want to say to newcomers that learning with English Online is good for everyone. Everyone can join the classes at home. We can easily learn English at home.”

“I like Winnipeg”

Isolation is a common problem for newcomers, especially for new mothers who have to stay at home while their husbands are at work. It is especially tough when you don’t know the language as this can limit you from reaching out to others. For recent newcomers to Canada, the restrictions due to the pandemic is an added challenge. This made it particularly hard for Kirandeep to explore her new environment and get to know others in the community. “I was not able to go around, go outside of my home because of COVID,” she said.

But despite this, Kirandeep likes living in Winnipeg. “According to me, Manitoba is the best city compared to other cities in Canada. We can easily survive. We can easily buy a house and other things”, she said. It is also admirable that despite barriers, she actively looks for ways to reach out (just like this interview) and continues to improve her English skills. “I want to say to newcomers that learning with English Online is good for everyone. Everyone can join the classes at home. We can easily learn English at home,” she said.

It’s a good thing that the government of Manitoba is starting to relax public health restrictions now as more people get vaccinated and COVID cases go down. This will mean more opportunities for newcomers to explore the province, meet other people, and to train and improve their skills. Most importantly, it can ease their isolation. In fact, just last Sunday, Kirandeep and her family were able to go to the beach. “I saw the beach in Gimli. It was my first time to go there. It is my first experience and I really enjoyed with friends,” she said. She also shared that she is looking forward to resuming her in-person language classes to supplement her online training in the coming months.

In the meantime, Kirandeep continues to learn with English Online to build her language skills as well as her confidence so she can eventually pursue a career. “My plan is to find work. That’s why I join the class so I can learn. In the future, I want to take a course because I want to be a teacher’s assistant. That’s why I want to improve my English, she said.

“You will publish my story?”

To end the interview, I told Kirandeep that I will be emailing the story to her to ask for her approval before we publish it on the site. She seemed incredulous and said “You will publish my story? But my English is not clear.”

I told her that her English was clear to me and that her story would be a great addition to the newcomer stories on our site.

“In my life, this is my first interview,” Kirandeep said. It is my good experience with you, I like!” she added. She also expressed her excitement over the prospect that her story will be seen by others, especially newcomers like her.

This was definitely the highlight of my day and all I could say was “Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kirandeep.”